Q. I completed on my brand new house six months ago and I am devastated to find out that my next door neighbours have decided to build a two story extension onto their period house. The extension is going to extend right up to their boundary wall, right next to my existing fence. A colleague has suggested that I hire a ‘party wall surveyor’. Do you think this is necessary and of what benefit will they provide me?
A. I sympathise greatly particularly since you have bought a brand new house! I imagine one of the reasons you decided to buy new was to prevent any need for refurbishment and disrupting building work being carried out. Unfortunately your neighbours as long as they have planning permission have every right to build up to the boundary wall and I imagine this is not going to be without disruption to you and your new home.
In simple terms a party wall divides the buildings of two owners with the boundary between ownerships usually, but not always, positioned at the centre of the wall. 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.
I would strongly advise that you also appoint your own surveyor to act on your behalf. The party wall surveyors 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, what happens in case of damage and access for the surveyor(s) during the course of the works.
I would highly recommend this document is put in place to prevent disputes further down the line. However, it should be noted that just because an adjoining owner avoids a party wall dispute by consenting to minor party wall works the building owner’s responsibilities do not disappear. If there is a dispute between the owners later in the process, for instance over some alleged damage, surveyors may still be appointed to resolve it.