The Role of the Party Wall Surveyor

The term “surveyor” is defined in the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 as any person who is not a party to the works. That rules out the possibility of an owner acting for themselves but anyone else is permitted to take an appointment. That includes whoever is overseeing the works on the owner’s behalf, be they surveyor or Architect. The chosen person should have a good knowledge of construction, be well versed in party wall procedures and ideally have a relevant qualification. Popular choices include building surveyors and structural engineers.

The party wall surveyors (or the “Agreed Surveyor” if the two owners can concur in a single appointment) will prepare a document known as a “party wall award” (sometimes called a “party wall agreement“). This document sets out the owners’ rights and responsibilities in relation to how the work should proceed and covers items such as working hours, access over the adjoining owner’s land to undertake the works and any necessary safeguards.

If you think your neighbour is unlikely to consent to the planned works it is worth involving a party wall surveyor at an early stage. The process starts with the service of notice (although the writer suggests that an informal discussion with your neighbour before the notice drops through their door will help to smooth matters later). Although template notices are widely available it is worth remembering that if they do not contain all of the necessary information, or are not properly served, they will be invalid. 

The most time consuming task that the party wall surveyor performs, prior to the work commencing, is the preparation of a schedule of condition. This is a record of those parts of the adjoining owner’s property that are at risk from the proposed works. It is essential that this is done accurately so that any subsequent damage can be easily identified and attributed In a similar way to a schedule of dilapidations). If there are two surveyors, this is prepared by the building owner’s surveyor who then sends a copy to the adjoining owner’s surveyor for agreement.  

An important point to remember is that once a surveyor is appointed under the Act, whether as the Agreed Surveyor or by either owner, they have a duty to act in an entirely impartial manner. Owners often find this part of the Act hard to swallow; after all, they appointed the surveyor so why shouldn’t he bloody well fight their side of the argument, but it should be borne in mind that the surveyors are appointed to resolve a dispute and that task would be near impossible if the owners are in the background pulling the strings. It might be tempting for a building owner to try and get rid of an intransigent surveyor but alas, under the Act, this is not possible. Once a party wall surveyor has been appointed that appointment cannot be rescinded unless the surveyor in question declares themselves incapable of acting or dies. 

Finally we come to fees, under all normal circumstances these are paid by the building owner. It is difficult to talk in figures as they vary widely from job to job and surveyor to surveyor. Surveyors appointed by the building owner will normally quote a fixed fee whereas the adjoining owner’s surveyor will charge by the hour (£220 is the current average for London) with contingencies for additional visits – the final figure is agreed and entered into the award just before it is served. Fees charged by adjoining owner’s surveyors in London range from £1,000 for a simple job rising to £2,000 plus for an award covering more complex works such as a basement conversion.   

This article was written by the team at Peter Barry Party Wall Surveyors. If you are in London or the surrounding areas and have a question relating to party wall procedures you can contact them on 020 7183 2578 or by email and receive up to 20 mins free advice.

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