How Party Wall Surveyors can Help
What is a party wall?
A party wall is a non-physical boundary within a wall dividing two properties. In essence, where there is a wall between two properties, such as between terraced or semi-detached houses.
Types of party wall
The Party Wall Act (1996) recognises two different types of party wall: the first as a wall between two properties, with the party wall existing within the wall itself.
The second is a wall which stands wholly on one person's property, but is used by both parties. For example, where a neighbour has a structure which leans against the wall (owned by the other party). In this instance, only the part of the wall utilised by the lean-to is counted as a party wall.
What is a Party Wall Surveyor?
A party wall surveyor is someone who arbitrates an agreement between two parties concerning works involving a party wall. They exist in order to make sure work carried out on a party wall is done fairly. The term “surveyor”, according to the Act, is “any person who is not a party to the works”; essentially, anyone who is not an owner or resident can be a Surveyor. While they must remain impartial under the act, each party involved will usually employ their own surveyor, meaning most cases involve two surveyors working together under the act to ensure a fair agreement is reached. In any case, someone chosen as a surveyor should be well versed in construction, party wall procedures, and have a relevant qualification. If both parties wish, they may hire a single surveyor as an agreed surveyor, who will cover all duties that two surveyors would otherwise cover.
The Role of the Party Wall Surveyor(s)
When called in, party wall surveyors act to ensure any work carried out on the party wall is done fairly, making any decisions in an impartial manner. To do this, the surveyors present will draw up a document known as a party wall award, or party wall agreement. This document outlines the owner's rights and responsibilities regarding the how the work should proceed, working hours, damage and access for the surveyors during this time. A property owner looking to hire a surveyor should keep in mind that they are bound to impartiality under the party wall act. Once appointed, the surveyor cannot simply be sent away or “fired”. In fact, they cannot be removed until the job is done, they declare themselves to be incapable of acting, or they die.
Fees for a party wall surveyor are usually paid by the building owner. Fees can vary from job to job; different surveyors will charge different amounts, while the exact price can vary based on time and amount of work done. Surveyors hired by a building owner tend to quote a fixed price, while an adjoining owner's surveyor should charge by the hour, with provisions for more visits. In any case, the final price is agreed upon and entered into the award just before it is served.
Coming to an agreement need not be a hassle between property owners. However, several steps must be taken before you can reach an agreement. If an adjoining owner does not consent within two weeks (fourteen days) of receiving notice of the proposed works by the building owner, then the two parties are considered to be in dispute. In this case, the dispute is resolved by both owners appointing a surveyor and those surveyors agreeing to the terms of a party wall agreement. As both surveyors are bound to be impartial, and both work on the agreement together, any disagreement that arises is likely to occur from one of the owners not understanding the Act. Be aware that even if the adjoining owner agrees with the owner's choice of surveyor (as an agreed surveyor), there is still a dispute to be resolved. An agreement must still be created and served on the owners.
What is a party wall agreement?
Also known as a “Party Wall Award”. This is the document provided by the party wall surveyors (or agreed surveyor) acting for the respective owners. It contains the following sections. The award, which governs how the proposed works should progress. A “schedule of condition” of the adjoining property, often supported with photographs, which outline the state of the adjoining property. This will highlight any damage already existing in the adjoining property, but is recorded with impartiality in mind. Finally, the award will contain drawings detailing the proposed works. The following are also covered: details of the proposed works, working hours, access arrangement for the surveyors, the adjoining owner's surveyor's fee, assurances concerning the contractor's public liability insurance, indemnities by the building owner in favour of the adjoining owner, and a time limit for the work to start within – usually twelve months.
The Third Surveyor
The Third Surveyor is a surveyor chosen between the two surveyors working for the building owner and adjoining owner. These individuals are usually highly renowned and very experienced and are chosen to resolve any disputes between the two surveyors.
Finalising an agreement.
Initially, the agreement is drawn up from a draft document, (the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) produces the most widely-chosen draft) which is then amended based on the specific needs of the planned work. It should clearly show the details of the two properties, their owners and their owner's addresses. Additionally, details of the two surveyors (or agreed surveyor), as well as details of the “Third Surveyor” should also be included. If the owners are using an agreed surveyor, there will be no “Third Surveyor”. When the agreement is finalised between the two surveyors it is published; a signed and witnessed copy is sent to both owners by their appointed surveyors. From then, a fourteen day right of appeal is available if either owner believes the award has been drawn up improperly. Finally, an additional copy of the award is given to the building owner, which should be passed on to their contractor.