Party wall or no party wall? What on earth is a party wall?

Since I have been publishing about the work I do, several people have asked me what the party wall is all about? I think I must mention them quite a bit! What is all the fuss and why do we need protection?

Many people hadn’t come across it before and some were concerned about work they’d already done without carrying out any formalities with their neighbours. So, this week’s blog is all about party walls, what a surveyor does and why we need to do it.

So, let’s start with the basics – what do party wall surveyors do?

Well, we offer services to property owners affected by party wall matters and can advise on the need for party wall notices, party wall agreements or party wall awards. And just to get it straight, a party wall is classed as one of the following:

  • A wall that straddles the boundary line between two premises, even if it has not been built against and does not form a part of the neighbour’s building;
  • A wall that divides two premises and forms a part of the structure of both
  • A flank wall of a building that has been built against, even if the enclosure was done after the building was originally built.
  • A garden wall (but not a fence) straddling the boundary.

What’s the difference between a notice, an agreement and an award?

A party wall notice is written confirmation that you plan to do works to an adjoining wall. It should be dated and it is advisable to include a clear statement that it is a notice under the provisions of the Party Wall etc Act.

A party wall agreement is written confirmation that your adjoining neighbours are happy for work to proceed.

A party wall award is produced by a surveyor in the event of there being disagreement between the neighbours over whether the work should be allowed.

 

How much will it cost me?

It depends. In London and the South East, most surveyors charge an hourly rate that will probably be between £100 to £180 plus VAT. The time that they will spend will depend on the complexity of the work, the number of neighbours and crucially the quality of the drawings and other information. If they’re poor, inadequate or missing, then more time will be taken and costs will climb.

For simple work, you might be better off with just one surveyor, known as an agreed surveyor between all parties, otherwise you’ll pay duplicate fees. For example, for a simple rear extension with one neighbour and a reasonable set of drawings and structural details, you’ll spend about £900 per surveyor (approx. six hours work each). By contrast, if you appoint an Agreed Surveyor, ie, just one between the two of you, the fee would be nearer £1200 plus VAT.

(We also offer a basic fixed fee service.)

Who pays a party wall surveyor’s fees?

In nearly all cases, the person undertaking the building work will be responsible for those costs, but this will be something that the two surveyors consider and include within their agreement if there is not an agreed surveyor. It is usual for all reasonable costs to be awarded against the building owner (the party doing the work).

If there isn’t an agreed surveyor, and the adjoining owner appoints their own surveyor, they are usually liable for the fees in the first instance, with the cost being recovered from the building owner. In practice, most adjoining owners’ surveyors invoice the building owner directly.

If the costs are not paid then the Award can be enforced in the County Court. The one risk is that the building owner becomes insolvent or ceases trading and is unable to settle the costs in which case you may find yourself liable for them.

Is a party wall surveyor a legal requirement?

Serving a party wall notice is a statutory requirement, but you do not need to use a surveyor to do this. However, if there is a dispute between the neighbours then the appointment of a party wall surveyor is a requirement. The Party Wall etc Act states that anyone disputing a party wall notice cannot act for themselves. Although there is no requirement for a party wall surveyor to be chartered or specially qualified, you’d be better off getting a qualified practitioner, as we have experience of unravelling terrible muddles and problems where someone has ‘given it a go’ – often a builder or a person doing the plans.

Can a party wall surveyor stop a build?

No. The party wall surveyor is obligated to put an award in place to authorise works. The award is between the parties, not the surveyors. If there is no award and work progresses the neighbour can seek an injunction or stop work proceeding, similarly if different or extra work to that authorised by the award is undertaken, then a neighbour can seek to stop the work. In these circumstance the surveyor’s role is advisory only to the party. It is for the parties to enforce an award and the requirements of the Act, not the surveyors.

Why does a party wall surveyor take photos?

Most party wall awards contain a schedule or record of condition. It is not a legal requirement, but it is best practice and is a crucial record if there is a dispute over damage. Surveyors will record the condition of the relevant parts of a property with supporting photographs, but very often only the written section will be included within an award. This is because not everybody wants pictures of the inside of their house published in a document. If there is an allegation of damage the surveyors will compare the damage to the photographs and agree whether the damage resulted from the works or not. Once they know this they can agree the best way of resolving the problem.

Do you have any more questions about party walls? Do you think you need to serve a notice and need some help? Contact us today for more advice – or post your question to us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. We’ll be happy to help.

(Originally published by Steven Way, 16 May 2017)