It’s the response that most worries owners notifying their neighbours of works falling under the Party Wall Act – not only a dissent but the appointment of a separate surveyor. I know of a couple of examples where a building owner has simply cancelled their works as a result, which seems extreme, but the loss of control really does seem to concern building owners.
Whenever there is a dissent to a party wall notice ‘control’ of the process moves from the owners to the appointed surveyor(s) whose duty it is to resolve the dispute and confirm their agreement in a party wall award. This is the case whether it is a single Agreed Surveyor or separate surveyors so the outcome should be similar albeit the cost of two surveyors will generally be greater than one.
Building owners concerns seem to focus on two areas; the impartiality of their neighbour’s surveyor and costs.
A building owner in receipt of a party wall notice can appoint anyone that they wish (apart from themselves). I was involved in a party wall matter recently where the adjoining owner appointed his brother (who happened to be a Chartered Surveyor) and it’s not unusual for owners to appoint their Architect. Whether brother, Architect or anyone else with a previous relationship with the building owner they have a duty to act impartially and that is insured by the three surveyor system. As soon as the first two surveyors are appointed, they must select a third in case there is any matter that they cannot agree upon – agreement must be reached between two of the three surveyors and the prospect of an agreement being made between the building owner’s surveyor and and the third surveyor keeps the adjoining owner’s surveyor honest.
On complicated disputes it’s not unusual for the surveyors to debate the options and part of that process will include them taking a position more aligned with that of their appointing owner – that’s fine as long as, having examined the options, a fair and reasonable solution is reached.
Timing may also be an issue. Regardless of the statutory notice period, the surveyors shouldn’t agree an award authorising the works until they have sufficient information to confirm that those works will be undertaken safely and without causing unnecessary inconvenience. The process can take time, especially if information is slow to be provided. Not many surveyors would agree to frustrate the works on behalf of their owner but if that were to happen the building owner’s surveyor has the option of proceeding ex parte (on their own) or approaching the third surveyor.
The surveyor acting for the adjoining owner is not required to confirm their fee before they are appointed although the fee does have to be reasonable (as confirmed by section 10 (13) of the Act). This worries building owners who would obviously like to get a handle on the costs up front. The alternative would effectively give the building owner a veto over their neighbour’s choice of surveyor and that would go against one of the key principles of the Act.
So, in summary, while it increases the costs and slows the process down a little bit, the appointment of a separate surveyor by your neighbour is nothing to fear – if you have an experienced and knowledgeable surveyor acting for you the effect on timing and costs should be minimal and the outcome broadly similar to that which an Agreed Surveyor would produce.
If you require advice on the appointment of surveyors or any other party wall matter you are very welcome to contact us for a without obligation chat on 020 8546 7211 or send your query via email.