Party Wall Pitfalls

Increasingly I find that neighbouring owners attempt to use The Party Wall etc Act 1996 to try and prevent works from going ahead. In actual fact the Act gives homeowners the right to complete work where a party wall or party structure is likely to be affected. It is not an injunction or method of prevention.

On several occasions I have attended a site to meet with a neighbour who does not want works to begin and is intent on pulling out all the stops to prevent works going ahead. In my experience the neighbour has usually had no notification that works are going ahead. The first they knew about it was when a spade struck the ground and lifted them from their slumber, or a planning notice letter fluttered onto their doormat. This is the crux of many party wall issues and I will come back to it later. In some cases the neighbour will, by any means necessary, try to prevent works. Inevitably they turn to the Party Wall Act in the hope that this legislation will curtail works.

In fact the opposite is true. To add to their frustration a surveyor appointed to act in regard to their interests is actually acting in the interests of the wall. They must act impartially in agreeing an award. Any surveyor who claims you are their ‘client’ and are acting in your interests in regard to a party wall award is misinformed. It is worth reiterating that the person undertaking works is known as the Building Owner and the neighbour is known as the Adjoining Owner. A Party Wall Surveyor acting on behalf these parties is either the Building Owners Surveyor or the Adjoining Owners Surveyor. Once appointed the surveyor cannot be disinstructed to act on behalf of an owner, and the terms of an award can only be contested in the county court.

A Party Wall Award will determine the right to execute works and govern the conditions by which work is completed, specifically in relation to works affecting a party structure. I recently completed an award where around 1% of the contract related to works affecting a party structure. The adjoining owner was reasonably disgruntled that the remaining works proceeded without the requirement for consultation.

At worst issuing party wall notices and agreeing an award is an inconvenience and extra expense for a building owner. Unless the award is particularly protracted or complicated, a surveyor will limit their fees by minimising time spent as much as possible. Were a party wall award not in place and an adjoining owner’s building was damaged, party wall surveyor fees compared to potential costs and legal fees are a drop in the ocean.

As previously stated many party wall instructions arise as the works are already being disputed because no negotiation with the neighbour has taken place prior to a planning application or a spade in the ground. In my experience the quickest route to preventing a protracted and bitter dispute with the neighbours is to go round and talk to them in the first instance. Tell them what you plan to do, why you plan to do it. Make them feel involved, it costs nothing and could save you a lot in the long run. Explain that you will be issuing a party wall notice and do so in plenty of time. Always suggest a schedule of condition is undertaken, even if works are not being disputed and no award is required. Remember, when the builders dust settles and the professionals have all been paid, your neighbour will still be there to glare or smile at you over the fence.

If you have a party wall issue or require some advice please contact us. RMA Surveyors Ltd will be happy to give an initial free consulation to ascertain your requirements.

Richard Mountain MRICS