Worried about party walls in the context of works of alteration and extension to suburban houses?

Michael Tibbatts MRICS answers 10 questions you might be afraid to ask…

Q1: What work is notifiable under the Party Wall etc Act 1996?

While all these works must have all relevant planning and building regulations approvals before they may proceed, the absence of these consents at the time a party wall award is made is not essential to the award being made but it is advisable to obtain the ‘consents’ first:

• Creating a typical loft extension.
• Removal of chimney breasts.
• Excavations for a side/rear extension within three meters of an adjoining owner’s property.
• Raising or lowering a party wall.
• Cutting in to the party wall to insert a flashing or damp proof course.
• Excavations to form a basement.

Q2: Who is responsible for “notifying”?

• The owner proposing to do the work (the building owner) is required at law to notify….
• Neighbours on either side (adjoining owners)
• Complications can arise where a neighbouring house has been subdivided to form flats. In such circumstances notices must be served on the flat owners and the owner of the freehold of that building.

Q3: Does the building owner have to appoint a surveyor to serve notices?

• Appointing a surveyor to deal with the whole process including service of initial notices is preferable. An early appointment of a surveyor ensures that there are no errors
• Before you make an appointment talk to the neighbours first. If dialogue is possible, try and agree on a named surveyor to act as the agreed surveyor so as to save costs to the building owner.

Q4: Who is responsible for paying the surveyor’s fees and how much should those fees be?

• The building owner is usually responsible for paying surveyors fees. Fee rates vary between surveyors but to give some guidance, my hourly rate is £195 an hour plus VAT for dealing with party wall work and I usually estimate between 7-10 hours of my time to deal with an award as an agreed surveyor, provided there are no unforeseen complications.

Q5: Can a neighbour (adjoining owner) stop a building owner doing works outlined at above?

No, but….
• An adjoining owner is entitled to appoint his/her own surveyor and the fees of that surveyor, under normal circumstances, fall to be paid by the building owner.
• It is therefore very important, before notices are served (Item 3 above), that building owners try and create a dialogue with neighbours (see Q3 above).

Q6: Who can act as an appointed surveyor?

• Anyone, except a member of the building owner’s family or a close relative of the building owner.
• However, it is best to appoint a chartered surveyor (FRICS/MRICS) who is an experienced party wall practitioner. The chartered surveyor should be a member of Pyramus and Thisbe Club (www.partywalls.org.uk).
• Refer to www.partywalls.org.uk/site/publication/2700 for a free copy of an EBook about the Pyramus and Thisbe Club

Q7: What does the appointed surveyor(s) do/not do?

• Set the terms and conditions for the work which is notifiable – refer Q1 above.
• Reflect, if it is possible to do so, the concerns of the appointing adjoining owner in so far as those concerns relate directly and solely to the notifiable Works.
• Take a detailed Schedule of Condition of the adjoining owner’s property so that in the event of damage being caused this may be remedied easily and without recourse to litigation.
• Make and Serve on the Building Owner and the Adjoining Owner an Award incorporating the detail set out above.

Party wall surveyors do not:

o Resolve boundary disputes
o Act to frustrate the legitimate proposals of the building owner
o Force the building owner’s proposals to proceed without listening to the concerns, if any, of the Adjoining Owner(s).

Q8: The surveyors have been appointed but soon after making those appointments, the owners decide they would like to cancel the appointment(s) and appoint someone else. May owners act in this way?

• No…. not without special leave and consent of the County Court.
• If owners wish to change their surveyor after appointing him/her they should consult a solicitor.

Q9: An award has been made and served but the owner(s) think it has been made unfairly. The surveyors may not have listened to concerns expressed and the owner(s) want the award set aside/cancelled. What can be done?

• Make an application to the County Court within 14 days of the award being made and served. Time is of the essence in this process and you will need to urgently consult with a solicitor.

Q10: The appointed surveyor has not done what he/she has been instructed to do – What can I do?

• An appointed surveyor cannot take sides because it is not a traditional client/professional relationship under which surveyors must take instructions.
• Party wall surveyors are required by statute to act impartially and fairly paying regard and having respect for all party’s interests.
• Although appointed surveyors may listen to and may consider views, they are not required to agree with views submitted or concerns expressed and they are not required to follow instructions.
• If the surveyor has acted impartially and fairly, there will be no cause for complaint.
• The appointed surveyor(s) cannot (and, indeed, must not) “do as they are told” to do by those owners, who appoint surveyors.

For more information please telephone Mike Tibbatts MRICS, who would be happy to answer your further questions.