A dispute in the Party Wall sense of the word needn’t be much of a dispute at all; even if the Act says it is. Under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, if an adjoining owner doesn’t consent within 14 days of receiving notice of the proposed works then the parties are deemed to be “in dispute”. The way that disputes under the Act are resolved is by each of the owners appointing a surveyor and those surveyors agreeing the terms of a party wall award; sometimes known as a Party Wall Agreement.
Even if the adjoining owner decides to concur with their neighbour’s choice of surveyor as “agreed surveyor” (normally a good decision for minor works) there is still a “dispute” to be resolved so an award must be drawn up and served on the owners.
In effect, what an adjoining owner is saying when they instigate a dispute is that they would like to have their interests protected by a person who understands construction matters and is familiar with the procedures under the Party Wall Act.
It could not be easier for an adjoining owner to instigate a dispute; they need do nothing at all. If Party Structure Notices and Notices of Adjacent Excavation are not consented to within 14 days of being received a dispute is deemed to have arisen.
The adjoining owner may appoint a surveyor (or concur in the appointment of an agreed surveyor) within the 14 day period but they needn’t rush their decision. Once the 14 days have elapsed they must be sent a follow-up letter asking them to appoint a Party Wall Surveyor within 10 days or risk one being appointed on their behalf by the building owner (the party planning the work). If a building owner does gain the right to appoint a surveyor on behalf of their neighbour that cannot be the same surveyor that they are using; an Agreed Surveyor cannot be appointed unless both owners confirm that appointment in writing.
Once a dispute has arisen both the building owner and the adjoining owner change from being “clients” to “appointing owners” – the terminology reinforces the surveyor’s duty to be impartial. A surveyor can serve notice on behalf of their client because at that stage it is not known whether the adjoining owner will consent or not. If they consent there will be no award and no need for a party wall surveyor.
If you are located within the London M25 area you can contact the authors of this article, the party walls team at Peter Barry Chartered Surveyors, on 020 7183 2578 or by email and receive up to 20 mins free advice on the subject of party wall disputes and other party wall related matters.