What Happens In A Party Wall Dispute?

If you are reading this Article then it is reasonable to assume that you are either already involved in a Party Wall Dispute, or there is a strong possibility that you will soon be entering into one.

In either case, it is important to have a good understanding of the Party Wall process as a whole and familiarise yourself with what a dispute is likely to entail.  

The Party Wall Act 1996 was put in place to make sure that any alterations or building works carried out to your home either close to, or on a party wall that is shared with an adjoining owner is done so without causing damage or nuisance to your neighbour.

In the first instance party wall notices are served on any neighbours which may be affected by the works and they are given the option to consent or dissent.

In the event that one of the adjoining owners dissents to the planned alterations, then a party wall dispute takes place.

This is the right of one of the adjoining owners to contest the alterations if it affects their property in any way.

In many cases we find that the neighbour is not dissenting to the works taking place at all, but more often than not they will have one or two particular concerns that they would like to have addressed prior to building works commencing.

Understanding what happens during this process is important for maintaining a level of professionalism, and knowing what to expect, so let’s take a look at exactly what this would entail.

The Beginning Of The Dispute

The dispute for a party wall will often start during the notice period. As stated above Legally, the individual or business attempting to make modifications to/or close to a party wall is required to serve notice to the neighbouring owner.

The neighbouring owner has two options available to them at this point. On the one hand, they can agree to the planned alterations, in which case the project will move forward with no issues.

Alternatively, and this is the choice which is the topic of conversation today, they are legally allowed to contest the alterations, in which case a party wall dispute begins.

The Process

If one side attempts to begin disputing the party wall alterations, a dispute will begin. Typically, this will involve the hiring of one or more Party Wall Surveyors in order to help with the process, as understanding legal rights and available options is often beyond the knowledge of your average person.

In some cases, both parties will use the same party wall surveyor ansd this is known as the ‘agreed surveyor’.

However, the neighbouring owner has the right to hire their own party wall surveyor if they so wish.

In the case of just one surveyor, that surveyor will have to act impartially, whereas in the instance of two, a third surveyor will need to be selected by the two party wall surveyors to act as arbitrator should the two surveyors be unable to reach an agreement between them.

It is rare that a simple domestic modification such as a loft conversion or an extension would need to be referred to a third surveyor however when they do, it is generally a disagreement surrounding fees charged by an adjoining surveyor.

Each party wall surveyor will attempt to support their side. Your party wall surveyor will justify why the alterations are acceptable and how they can be carried oiut with as little inconvenience to your neighbours as possible.

The opposing party wall surveyor will assess the plans and supporting documentation and then provide feedback on what parts of the build are most likely to affect the neighbour and request further information/provide recommendations on how the impact can vbe kept to a bare minimum.

Therefore the opposing party wall surveyor will have access to all of the documents you have provided in terms of notice, they will often perform assessments of the plans and associated build documents and may request further information from the Architect or Contractor to prevent any unambiguity.

At the same time, your party wall surveyor will look through all of the documents you have provided in order to familiarise themselves with the case, they will challenge and defend you against the opposing wall surveyor, and will also be responsible for agreeing the fees for the opposing wall surveyor. This is often where the third-party is required, as disputes are frequently done over the fees adjoining owners occasionally attempt to charge.

The Resolution

The resolution of the party wall dispute will come when the opposing party wall surveyor is confident that the build will be carried out in a way to minimise impact on the adjoining owner as far as is practical.

The adjoining owners surveyor may have requested and agreed certain things with the building owners surveyor in order to achieve this.

Regular requests we deal with weekly are generally common courtesy issues such as allowing quite periods during the day if the neighbour has young children or works from home, the working hours of contractors, weekend working, blocking of driveways for material deliveries etc.

This will then all form part of the Party Wall Award. It is written consent by the neighbouring owner that reasonable access to the property will be allowed, and the alterations will take place.

A party wall dispute can take a while to sort, and will depend entirely upon the complexity of the issue, and the time it takes for a conflict to be resolved. It’s important to try and maintain a good relationship with your neighbour during this period, as this may help them with reaching compromises on certain issues. At the end of the day, you do not have to be enemies all the time, and it is not worth sacrificing a positive relationship for.

Final Thoughts

A party wall dispute can be a challenging thing, understandably, and it is important to make sure that people work together in order to find compromises.

Generally speaking, most possible disputes can be solved quite quickly if both sides are willing to compromise on certain specific details.

However, if you follow the legal process to its end, and a party wall award is awarded, there is nothing more that can be done to challenge your property alterations.

Ultimately, it is in the best interests of both you and your neighbour to reach a conclusion quickly, as party wall surveyors can be an expensive resource to use.

A protracted dispute will not be recommended, as it is the building owner carrying out the works who ultimately pays the fees for all the surveyors involved, so it may be worth your while to compromise on issues that your neighbouring owner may well have for the sake of speeding up the process and keeping your costs down.

Another way of ensuring your costs are kept as low as possible is by using surveyors who operate on a Fixed fee such as ourselves, rather than opt for a surveyor who charges by the hour.

What Happens Next?

In practice, on conclusion of the award the Adjoining Owners Surveyor will propose a rate for the hour together with a total fee for their role in agreeing an award.

This hourly rate and final bill will be either accepted or rejected by your own surveyor, who will check the timesheet of the Adjoining Owners Surveyor to determine if the fee is accurate and reasonable.

The timesheet for the Adjoining Owners Surveyor will be influenced by a variety of different things, like for example checking the designs, speaking with experts, assessing the planned works, authenticating the works, and a selection of other tasks.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the costs for a party wall surveyor will be influenced by many factors. Typically, these types of individuals will work on an hourly fee, which will then be disputed or contested by the Building Owners surveyor as is necessary.

A third-party can and will arbitrate and move the process forward if necessary, but, as they will have their own costs, and bearing in mind the majority of third surveyors regularly selected and agreed on Party Wall disputes command the highest level of respect in their sector it is to be expected that their rates will reflect this and £300.00 per hour is not uncommon.

It is advantageous therefore to use the third surveyor as little as possible for a small domestic extension such as a House Extension or Loft Conversion.

With all of this being said, you should do your homework when selecting a Party Wall Surveyor, especially if you are the building owner.

Check their levels of experience, check their credentials and make an informed decision.

You are investing a significant amount of money to extend your home.  Therefore look upon the party wall surveyor as simply being an additional service along with planning and building control to ensure your build is carried out efficiently with no neighbourly disputes.

A party wall surveyors costs are a small price to pay when you compare it with the price of falling out with your closest neighbours over something that could have been so easily avoided if the correct procedures had of been followed.

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