For many people undertaking building work for the first time, the associated professional costs can come as something of a surprise. The construction industry in the UK is heavily regulated with stringent planning and building regulation controls and the Party Wall Act can be a frustration. In this blog we will aim to show why you have to engage with this process and also why it can be invaluable.
Why Do I need To Serve A Party Structure Notice on my Neighbour?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is a piece of legislation that applies to all people in England and Wales who plan to undertake significant structural work to either a Party Structure (a shared structure such as a dividing wall in a terraced house) or to those who wish to excavate foundations within 3m of a neighbour and lower than their foundations. The Act also applies if you are building a new wall at or over the boundary and if you are installing very deep foundations within 6m of your neighbour.
In short, if your works comes broadly under the above description, you are obliged by law to serve a Notice upon your neighbour. They can then either simply agree to you proceeding, disagree and appoint one joint surveyor to administer a resolution process or disagree and appoint their own surveyor. In all instances, the person undertaking the works pays the reasonable costs. If you do not serve a notice you are acting unlawfully.
What are the Benefits?
Once the process is commenced, it should be about resolving disputes. The disputes may be very minor but conversely the Act really comes into its own when the disputes become more serious.
Early on in the process a surveyor will normally attend a neighbour’s property and record its condition in a document called a Schedule of Condition. This will include written descriptions of the condition of a property such as cracking, broken glazing, binding doors etc. and accompanying photographs. This benchmarks that property so that on completion of the works damage can be easily identified in order to be put right.
In our experience a clear Schedule of Condition is one of the best ways of resolving disputes. For example most properties have cracking and most people will not really pay much attention to that cracking over the years. Once a neighbour starts building works and the banging commences, a neighbour may start to pay more attention to cracking and suddenly it appears that it is everywhere. However in many instances we will return to a property and find that the cracking was recorded prior to the works and therefore repairs do not become the liability of the person undertaking the works.
Conversely, where new damage occurs this can be easily identified and put right.
How do you Resolve a Dispute?
In all instances a party wall surveyor/s will resolve a dispute with what is known as an Award. This is a legal document binding on both parties that sets out their rights and obligations under the Party Wall Act. Each party can appeal the award within 14 days of receiving it.
If we take the example of damage on completion of the works, in most instances if the neighbours can not agree a sum the party wall surveyor will determine the extent of the damage, the extent of the repairs and a reasonable cost for the works. This will then be bound up in an Award requiring that the person undertaking the works pay the neighbours or indeed require them to engage a contractor to undertake those works.
But Why is the Process Valuable?
A party wall surveyors hourly rate is generally between £150 – £250 + VAT depending on the location of the works. A party wall surveyor is able to straddle the line between legal and technical aspects of a damaged property. They will be able to identify the nature of the damage, the remedy and the legal action to take. A lawyer’s hourly rate will be anywhere from £250 -£500 + VAT and they will only have cognisance of the legal aspects of a dispute, not the physical and technical aspects of damage which would then require a surveyor in any case.
Therefore a party wall surveyor should be able to resolve all aspects of a dispute in a few hours rather than having to escalate it to a more litigious standing (which of course has its place in complex legal disputes). It also takes difficult discussions out of the hands of neighbours and puts them into the hands of an impartial surveyor. A good surveyor will be professional and detached from the emotional side of decision making and base this on their professional judgement.
In short, the Party Wall process takes difficult legal and technical decisions out of the hands of neighbours and aims to resolve them in fair and impartial manner rather than having to escalate them with the aid of lawyers and ultimately the courts. At the Hopps Partnership we have many years of experience in dealing with these dispute situations and our team of Surveyors are on hand to guide you through from the pre-works stage to the post- works sign off.