If you do not consent when notified of works falling within the scope of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (‘The Act’) you will need to appoint a surveyor to act for you. As with choosing any professional it pays to do some research in advance but that’s especially true with party wall disputes as your only means of redress may be an appeal in court.
These are some of the main considerations:
Qualifications & Experience
The definition of a ‘surveyor’ in the Act is anyone that is not a party to the dispute i.e. anyone bar the 2 owners, so in theory anyone can set themselves up as a party wall surveyor – that does not mean that they possess the necessary experience and knowledge to properly undertake the role. Party wall procedures can get complicated, especially if there are disputes in relation to damage, access etc. so it’s vital to appoint a surveyor who is well versed in dealing with such situations.
Professionals that commonly undertake the role include Chartered Surveyors, Engineers and Architects and all 3 should have sufficient construction knowledge. However, the best way to establish whether they are also familiar with party wall procedures is to call them and discuss the matter directly with the individual surveyor who would be taking on the appointment. You could also review the company website see how much information it carries relating to party wall matters including blog posts, case studies etc.
Single of Agreed Surveyor?
The Act allows a surveyor to act for both the party undertaking the works and their neighbour (known as the ‘Agreed Surveyor’) and this can be a good solution for modest residential extensions. Appointed surveyors have a duty to act impartially so, in theory, there should be little difference between a party wall award agreed by two surveyors and an award produced by an Agreed Surveyor.
When serving notice a building owner will often nominate a potential Agreed Surveyor in case of a dispute. Before considering appointing a nominated surveyor it’s recommended that you obtain details of their qualifications and speak to them on the phone to get a feeling for how often they have undertaken the role.
As a building owner it’s tempting to shop around and find the lowest possible fee for serving notices and dealing with any resulting disputes, but such an approach is not without risk. Invalid notices can delay the works as can a failure to properly address legitimate concerns raised by the adjoining owner’s surveyor.
Any surveyor appointed by an adjoining owner will not be expected to quote a fee in advance but will rather keep a record of the time spent on the matter and calculate their fee by reference to an hourly rate when all other matters have been agreed. An experienced building owner’s surveyor will do a thorough job of producing the draft documents and carefully check the details of the proposed works to ensure that the other surveyor’s time is kept to a minimum.
Disputes over fees are resolved by the appointed surveyors so the surveyor acting for the building owner must be experienced in reviewing time sheets to ensure that the time the adjoining owner’s surveyor has claimed is reasonable.