Sunday, December 30, 2012

Life of the Party Walls - Abuse and Neglect (Part 2)

Party wall law began in England, in response to problems that arose when individual row houses were demolished leaving adjacent homes, inadequately supported. The beauty of row home construction was economy of scale and maximal land use, at the turn of the century. Row houses were built in such a way that each shared walls with a neighbor on either side except for the end units, which had only one shared wall. Shared walls were never a problem until of course they were no longer shared.

(source unknown)
Many row houses were constructed as rental housing for workers. They were not always well built and many were very poorly maintained. So, it was not surprising to encounter homes that had deteriorated to the point of collapse, in the middle of a row of homes. When these neglected and abused homes were demolished, unless the intrinsic weakness of the shared wall was recognized and adequately supported, both of the neighboring houses were immediately at risk of collapse. It became a house of cards. Laws and codes were written to protect both parties since each had a stake in what happened to “their” wall. It was like a three-legged race. What happened to one, affected the other.

Baltimore row houses

Baltimore is famous for its many late 1800’s worker row houses, which are very similar to those in England. Today sadly, one can see many examples of buildings in the middle of a row of Baltimore homes, burnt out and starting to collapse through neglect and abuse. This is classic urban decay. Perhaps these are fallow fields simply awaiting a natural death and the bulldozers of development. Who knows?

The author has concluded, from “walking around observation” of various local building disasters, that on each occasion the cause was lack of knowledge and understanding of party wall principles – essentially construction incompetence. The construction complications shown in Figures 1 and 2 were entirely preventable.

(Figure 1.) Durr Alley construction project where the neighboring wall was not underpinned adequately prior to excavation of the basement of the home. 

(Figure 2.a) Naylor Court construction project where the stable at 1316 9th Street rear proved to be so solid, that in the process of its destruction, the literal “party wall” in VIP Lounge in the nightclub next to it (now the MOOD Lounge) was breached, exposing speakers and dry wall. 

(Figure 2.b) The raze permit had been issued based on the premise that the stable was falling down. In fact it was actually rather difficult to tear down! 
(Figure 2.c) The "unstable" Lincoln era stable had been quite stable.

Some principles of American party wall law.
  • Each person owns as much of a party wall as is situated on (their) land.
  • Each owner acquires title to one-half the wall and an easement for its support as a party wall in the other half.
  • A party wall that is constructed without any reference to a time limitation implies permanency.
  • A party wall is for the mutual benefit and convenience of both owners. Each adjoining owner has the right to its full use as a party wall in the improvement and enjoyment of his property. Neither owner can use the wall in a manner that impairs the other's easement or interferes with his or her property rights.
  • Either party can replace a party wall that is dangerous to life or property or insufficient for the support of existing buildings. 
  • Neither owner has any right to have a dangerous wall bolstered by allowing it to rest upon, or be sustained by, the timbers, walls, or parts of the other's building. 

Vol. 55 No. 52 Part 3 District of Columbia Register Dec 26 2008

Section 3307A Protection of Adjoining Property
3307.2 Notification required
The person causing the work shall provide written notice, and a copy of the proposed work plan, to the owner of the adjoining property advising said owner of the intended work and the need for protection for the adjoining property.

4. If the adjoining owner affirmatively denies permission, the adjoining owner shall provide justification to the code official indicating the reason for the denial. Upon granting permission, conditional or unconditional, the adjoining owner shall notify the code official and the person causing the work in writing.

3307.2.1 Underpinning party walls. In the case of existing adjoining or party walls, which require underpinning, proper underpinning shall be provided in accordance with applicable sections of this code whether or not written permission to enter the adjoining lot is granted.

District of Columbia Municipal Regulations Title 10A Historic Preservation

Functions of the Mayor’s Agent
104.5 (page 13)
The Mayor’s Agent determines if historic landmarks or contributing buildings in historic districts are threatened by demolition by neglect*, and pursues appropriate remedies pursuant to the Act.
(a)     This authority may be exercised by the Historic Preservation Office under the supervision of the Mayor’s Agent.
(b)       The Historic Preservation Office may pursue enforcement remedies with the assistance of the Office of the Corporation Counsel, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, or other agencies as appropriate.

* Demolition by neglect: Neglect in maintaining, repairing, or securing a historic landmark or a building or structure in a historic district that results in deterioration of an exterior feature of the building or structure or the loss of the structural integrity of the building or structure (D.C. Official Code § 6-1102(3A) (2002 Supp.)).

1 comment:

shorifmiss said...

I took a lot of photos in this town, so I'm going to break them down into two posts.

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