Choosing a Party Wall Surveyor
A Party Wall surveyor plays a vital role in protecting the property of Building Owners and Adjoining owners alike. A good surveyor will resolve any matters in dispute in a fair and practical way. They will ensure building work can progress safely and without delay. Failure to follow the statutory regime of the Party Wall etc Act 1996 will be viewed dimly if recourse is sought through the Courts, as we have highlighted previously. Selection of an experienced and capable Party Wall surveyor is therefore an important decision.
Who can act as a Party Wall Surveyor?
Section 20 of the Party Wall etc Act defines a ‘surveyor’ as any person who is not party to the matter who has been appointed to determine disputes arising under the Act. This means that no training or experience is required to act as a party wall ‘surveyor’. Building works that fall under the auspices of the Act often involve complex excavations and construction, so it should follow that a ‘surveyor’ would be an experienced and regulated chartered building professional.
Membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or an equivalent regulatory body (CIOB or RIBA) should be a preferred requirement of owners. In our experience, all too often this is not the case. Anyone can design a website with the words ‘party wall specialist’ in the title and find themselves appointed by unknowing members of the public. This can be equally problematic for Building Owners and Adjoining Owners, putting their assets and/or development programme’s at substantial risk of falling victim to untrained ‘surveyors’.
At Anstey Horne we have seen it all when it comes to the Party Wall etc. Act. Having been instrumental in the inception of the Act itself, we have experienced and dealt with the good, the bad (and the ugly) when it comes to the world of party walls and individuals practicing under the guise of the term ‘surveyor’.
How do Chartered Surveyors differ from unqualified Surveyors?
To become Chartered, a surveyor will have had to complete the RICS Assessment of Professional Competence (APC). This process, which can take several years, ensures that candidates to become Chartered are competent and meet the high standards of professionalism required to become chartered. Candidates will ordinarily have completed an RICS accredited degree. They will then have to complete a written submission setting out their experience in relevant competencies. They will also have to provide proof of training over a (minimum) 24 month period, and then be subjected to a 60 minute assessment interview. Even with all the training this process requires, the pass rate is usually just 60% of those that apply.
By comparison there is no guarantee that surveyors who are not Chartered have had any training at all. Some membership organizations offer training courses on the Party Wall Act. This bears no comparison to the rigorous process to become a Chartered Surveyor and is no indication of construction knowledge or experience in dispute resolution.
What should you look for in a Party Wall Award?
A Party Wall Award should never be ‘off the peg’. There is no one size fits all solution. The type of work being undertaken will determine the suite of documents and appendices that will need to be provided, reviewed and critically evaluated by the surveyors (and sometimes a surveyor’s advising engineer).
A detailed set of drawings and contractors Method Statement should almost always be included. This will set out how the work is to be undertaken (this is important as surveyors are to determine the time and manner of works being carried out under the Act) and when. The aforementioned are not exhaustive and the level of detail and volume of documents required will be considerably different when contrasting a loft conversion against a deep commercial basement of several levels. The appointed surveyors must have an intricate understanding of the content of these documents and not simply act as postboxes.
Identifying damage caused by works
The other important component is a detailed Schedule of Condition of the Adjoining Owners properties. While not a strict requirement under the Act itself, this document has become almost a mandatory appendice (subject to access). This document should clearly record the condition of neighbouring buildings, which will aid in avoiding costly disputes should any damage occur. The last thing Building Owners and Adjoining Owners want is to be left in precarious positions whereby the only recourse to rectify disputed damage is to settle matters in Court (which of course is what the Act is designed to attempt to avoid) at substantial cost to both sides.
Whilst calamitous damage from Party Wall work is rare, the collapse of buildings is not unknown, as reported recently at a property in Chelsea. With this in mind, long standing, reputable, experienced, chartered professionals from industry approved regulated bodies are most desirable to be employed as surveyors under the Act. They will have the experienced required to ensure works will be conducted safely with minimal risk of damage.
Choose a Party Wall Surveyor with care
Often untrained surveyors will gain work by presenting a cheap up-front or ‘all-inclusive’ fee for a Party Wall Award when compared with that of an experienced and regulated practice. This is often a false economy.
Regulated chartered surveyors, engineers and architects acting as party wall surveyors will often command a higher fee. This is reflective of the level of education, skill and training that those practitioners will have had in understanding intricate aspects of construction technology, building pathology and a detailed working knowledge of the Party Wall Act itself. The fee however, will be transparent and clear as to the level of service being provided.
When appointing a surveyor, care should be taken to ensure that a reputable, experienced, chartered professional is selected with verifiable membership of one of the industry approved regulatory bodies. A surveyor’s membership of one of the approved regulatory bodies can be checked by clicking on these links for the RICS, Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) & Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
For further help choosing a Party Wall surveyor or for assistance with a project requiring Party Wall advice, please contact :
DD : 020 7947 0960
M : 07816 845 160