New PoP Feature – Legal Questions Answered By Griffin & Murphy, LLP


Griffin & Murphy, LLP, is a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. concentrating its practice in real estate law (including development, finance, leasing, zoning and condominium conversions), as well as estate planning and probate, civil litigation, and business law. The attorneys of Griffin & Murphy, LLP are licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Griffin and Murphy, LLP was founded in 1981.

Yesterday a reader wrote in asking advice about the above situation.  I am happy to announce a new partnership with Griffin & Murphy, LLP who will answer your questions.  I will make this a weekly feature.  Please send any legal questions relating to real estate, buildings, renovations or rentals to princeofpetworth (at) gmail (dot) com Following is this week’s advice:

This case involves a D.C. row house which, until recently, shared a common wall with its neighbor. The neighbor tore down a portion of the common wall.


The common wall may or may not have been a “Party Wall.”  A Party Wall is one which straddles two adjoining lots.  Most common walls are Party Walls.  Sometimes common walls are not Party Walls because they have been located improperly on only one lot when built.  If a common wall is not a Party Wall, certain rules apply.  If the common wall is a true Party Wall, then a different set of rules apply.  Party Walls have to be maintained and supported equally by the adjoining property owners.  If a portion of a Party Wall is demolished, it must be replaced at the cost of the property owner that took it down.  If the replacement is to occur at a later date in connection with the construction of a new structure on the adjoining lot, then the portion of the Party Wall still standing must be protected as soon as practicable from the elements and, if needed, it must be adequately secured so as to prevent any structural damage to the house still standing.  Common walls that are not Party Walls must also be properly maintained by adjoining property owners, but the rules for enforcing this requirement differ from the rules that apply to Party Walls.  Continues after the jump.


Disputes involving Party Walls are common, whether they are being demolished or not.  The disputes typically involve lawyers and occasionally experts, but no one likes to pay for lawyers or experts if they don’t have to.  Therefore, the first step for the complaining party to take is for them to call their insurance company. If they are properly insured, the insurance company will negotiate the settlement of the problem, usually with the help of a lawyer and, if needed, an expert, paid for by the insurance company, and the insurance company will pay for any damages suffered by the insured.  The insurance company will then try to get these damages back from the adjoining property owner, demolition company, construction crew, etc.


When the property owner purchased the house, they probably received a Building Location Survey at their closing.  If there is a question as to whether the common wall is a Party Wall, and the Building Location Survey is not clear about this, then a more detailed survey should be obtained.  This type of survey is known as a Boundary Line Survey.  It is slightly more expensive than a Building Location Survey.


Damages to the house caused by the adjacent demolition and not involving damage to a Party Wall (such as the damage to the front porch in this case) are the responsibility of the party demolishing the adjacent structure, provided that the damaged portion of the house is located on the lot of the person claiming to have been damaged.


* Call your Insurance Company IMMEDIATELY and see if you are covered for this type of damage under your Home Owner’s Policy.

* Contact DCRA and make sure the demolition next to you is being done in accordance with a validly issued permit.  Ask for an inspector to come out and make sure that everything is being done in accordance with the law.

* Locate and review your Building Location Survey.

* Locate and review your Title Insurance Policy and make sure that the standard “survey exception” was removed because you purchased a Building Location Survey.

* Take pictures of everything as it occurs, if possible, and date the pictures.

This response was prepared by Mark G. Griffin and Patrick D. Blake of Griffin & Murphy, LLP. The material contained in this response has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice or as a substitute for a consultation with a qualified attorney. Nothing in this response should be considered as either creating an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Griffin & Murphy, LLP or as rendering of legal advice for any specific matter.

15 Comment

  • Very cool new feature. Thanks to both PoP and Griffin & Murphy.

  • I also think this is a good feature. Even though I’m a lawyer, I rarely get to handle issues such as these. Reminds me of the bar exam (of which I have fond memories, contrary to most).

  • Great idea!! I’ve always wondered about the countless adjoined row houses and the legal matters involved when both properties are affected.

    Again, ncie job PoP!

  • Who wants to join my new band – Party Wall? Mixture of R&B, blues, a little garage soul…dig?
    Party Wall!
    Party Wall!
    Party Wall!

  • Great new feature! Thanks POP and Griffin Murphy.

  • Residential title companies will typically not remove the survey exception from a title policy at closing because a building location survey is not as extensive as a boundary survey (which involves a surveyor actually coming out and staking the corners of the property).
    That is what I was told by the title company when I asked to have the survey exception removed at closing.

    Most homebuyers do not obtain a boundary survey at settlement because of the increased cost (about $1600 for a boundary survey vs. $400 for a building location survey).

  • Awesome new feature. I was just thinking yesterday when I read the original post how this city has so many resources of the legal nature, why not have a legal question be addressed each week. It’s like you are in my brain PoP.

  • Something to add to this:

    A big part of the difficulty the homeowner may have is because they are absentee landlords. Everything that happened was over and done before they even knew about it.

    If you rent a property and don’t have a relationship with the tenants such that you can trust them to keep you apprised of what’s going on, you really need to find some way to keep up with neighborhood happenings.

    Situations like this are always bad – but it’s a lot easier to stop someone from doing something illegal and protect your property rights, than it is to get reparations after the fact.

    I am in no way shifting blame to the property owner for the problems they are having now, but just to say that you can avoid a lot of headaches by keeping tabs on your property. Same applies to maintenance – we hear from landlords who complain that their tenant destroyed their property by not informing them of leaks, etc.

    The reality is nobody’s looking out for your interest but you. You need to either do it yourself or find someone who will be willing to do it for you, if you can’t depend on the tenants.

    A stitch in time saves nine…

  • PoP, you (and certainly G&F) should add a disclaimer to this post, stating clearly that you’re not in any way, shape, or form offering legal advice to anyone, and that anyone who thinks s/he needs a lawyer should find one. In our overly litigious society, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  • A regular feature educating homeowners about the specific components that comprise their urban row house might go further positively than just encouraging neighbors about lawyering up.

  • Wow POP – I never guessed that when I sent my question in to you I would get such helpful responses, both from Mark Griffin and from the other readers. This information is very helpful! It is definitely helping me to be more informed in this process.

    And Jaime, you are absolutely right. If we were living in the house (as we did for years prior to moving abroad and hope to again when we return to DC), there is no way that this would have gotten so far without us being in contact (at the very least) with the developers, to ensure that our property is protected. We have a rental management agency working for us, and generally I am pleased with their service, but it is not the same as living there or being a landlord based in DC. In fact, the first we heard of this is when the tenants contacted the rental agency letting them know there was a leak in the roof.

    Thanks again to everyone for you help and to POP for posting this.

  • One more question for Mark Griffin – I was never officially notified about this work. Is that required? Is it something worth pursuing?

  • Great question.

    My neighbor “renovated” her porch and in so doing caused a lot of damage to mine. I never thought of going to the home insurance company. I did end up getting $1000 from the neighbor which I accepted.

    So here is a question, maybe not as profound: what is the penalty for taking a homeowner’s tax rate when you don’t live in the home?

  • What a fantastic new feature! I look forward to reading more of these posts. Keep up the great work, Prince of Petworth and Griffin and Murphy!

  • Sasha in St. Lucia – It used to be that when a person applied for a raze permit, notice of the application was only provided to the ANC and through the DC Register. Legislation enacted in June 2009 made it a requirement to post notice of the raze permit application on the facade of the building and fronting a public street.

    Snow Bunny – You raise a good question. Mark and I will be answering questions like that each week here on PoP, so look for a post in the near future.

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