£35,000 Party Wall Dispute..HOW MUCH!?
Professional fee's are an important consideration regardless of the size of the project, however having the right team on board from the offset can pay dividends, financially and for ones sanity as this article demonstrates from the 2017 County Court case of Reeves vs Young (& Co) where spiralling Party Wall related costs mount up astronomically.
We take a look at the matter from a party wall surveyors perceptive and offer advice and guidance to those seeking the services of a party wall surveyor.
Where did it go wrong?
Let me set the scene, the property is a detached residence whereas the building owner Miss Reeves wished to undertake building work, including excavating within a prescribed distance of their neighbours Mr & Mrs Young. Whilst the nature of the dispute is somewhat ambiguous, the matter ends up in court rather than being resolved under the 1996 Act, resulting in cost's and fee's into the tens of thousands of pounds.
TK Surveying Group Surmise the Party Wall Surveyors role as:
'An integral statutory function to advise, guide, mediate and determine all 1996 Act related matters;
- impartially and to the confinement of the applicable Law - '
Perplexing and interestingly the party appointed surveyor's in this case both work for the same practise, (whilst I hear you cry conflict of interest and indeed this may be true), one has to wonder quite simply as to how can two professionals who are duty bound to resolve a dispute end up in such a conflicting outcome?
Putting aside the perceived conflict of interest, all the ingredients for a swift resolution are there for the offering, no need to wait for emails or return of a missed call, an easy stroll to a colleagues desk, chat by the water machine or even a formalised meeting with some ground coffee in toe.
So where did it go wrong? A good question indeed, whilst it would be remiss to hazard a guess without full disclosure to the matter, this article will draw on key points of the case for further consideration.
Resolving Disputes - The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (the 1996 Act)
The 1996 Act enables a building owner to undertake work which under normal circumstance are not entitled too under Common Law. In return the 1996 Act provide reciprocal rights to ensure that the party impacted by the work(s) is safeguarded in order to minimise the likelihood of damage and disruption.
Under normal circumstances once the surveyor(s) are appointed (the third selected), the individual and collective expertise of the surveyor(s) are put to task to determine, draft, agree and serve a Party Wall Award which places legal obligation on all parties in respect of rights and duties.
In our experience the third surveyor (umpire) is very rarely called upon to resolve a dispute because the expertise employed in the first instance ought to be sufficient to deal with all aspects of the process and scenario's encountered.
Notifiable under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996
Although a relatively common scenario, TK Surveying Group often
counsel building owners confused by the concept that a detached property
may be subject to the 1996 Act.
To find out more about notifiable work click here
- Interestingly in the first instance Miss Reeves appointed her surveyor in the words of the judge 'having had an approach by...'. There are a number of practises and surveyors who solicit work by trawling through local authority planning applications, these are often referred to as 'ambulance chasers' who sometimes scare parties into appointing them. Like most services it is always best to go with recommendation and ideally local.
- Secondly, Surveyors impartiality is key. Whilst there is nothing in Party Wall Law to prevent surveyors working for the same practise, there is an educated perception that impartiality may be misconstrued, confirmed in the judge notes; '...one can envisage that circumstances might arise in which this is not a preferred arrangement.'
- An employee of the appointed surveyor's practise undertook much of the preparatory work, rather than the appointed surveyors. Whilst menial administrative tasks may well be delegated and for the right reasons, preparing and scrutinising the technicalities of a proposal is best undertaken by the appointed party wall surveyor as is receiving and responding to matters in dispute. Unfortunately in our experience the delegation of technical matters only seems to extend the dispute, technical errors and lack of response to quires being the biggest offenders.
- The third surveyor was called upon to determine matters relating to access and the erection of scaffolding....this confirms what has been highlighted above, that having the right party wall surveyor on board from the outset can avoid delay. Did the adjoining owner have no confidence in the safeguarded measures proposed by their surveyor or as otherwise as published in the Party Wall Award? Whilst the Third Surveyor can be approached by the surveyors' or appointing owners' it is usually reserved for more complex matters where no mutual ground is satisfied, scaffolding arrangement should not be one of those, does this demonstrate a lack of faith in the appointing owners or perhaps communication (delegated or otherwise) was unsatisfactory?
Dedicated practitioners such as us at TK Surveying Group always offer a direct and responsive contact, we find having an Expert and the other end of a phone or email the most Efficient and Effective means to respond to quires and resolve party wall disputes.
- The matter was contested and in unorthodox style two third surveyors were appointed.
General costs associated to case, whilst no definitive figure was provided using the figures below and assumed hours of 10-15 hours cost could easily amount in excess of £35,000.00!
Party Wall surveyor (estimated) £150+ per hour
Third surveyor £350 per hour
Barrister £523 per hour (inclusive of VAT)
Claimants costs circa £20,000.00
KEY CONSIDERATIONS WHEN APPOINTING A SURVEYOR
To state the obvious, choosing your Party Wall Surveyor wisely is crucial, once appointed a Party Wall Surveyors role becomes one of Statutory Duty, the role becomes irrevocable which means you cannot simply ask them to cease acting on your behalf, and you may just be left with the big bad wolf dressed as a cowboy!
- Are you happy to appoint a surveyor via unsolicited means? In the case above it evidently didn't work.
- Don't get hung up on the hourly rate, typically £150-200 per hour, a dedicated practitioner will know the Party Wall etc. Act like the back of their hand, cheaper and cheerful often at the neglect of expertise or dedication to the project.
- Go for a dedicated practitioner. The best party wall surveyors should have exposure to a wide ranging remit of building, surveying and construction experience and like us at TK Surveying Group have decided that this area of property and land law merits dedication.
- We've unfortunately engaged counterparts happy to attempt to dispute matters unnecessary at which can cause erroneous and costly delays to a project and cause stress amongst neighbours. The right surveyor will police this and ensure it is nipped in the bud. At TK Surveying Group our moral and professional integrity goes without saying and accordingly we we ensure we police our counterparts conduct and challenge where necessary.
- Go with recommendations and ideally local. Many people are swayed by solely by the perceived cheaper option often at the neglect of reading the small print and having the professional to tap into when help is required. Invariably the cheaper option can cost more than you realise, especially where an adjoining owners surveyor is left to do much of the work their counterpart has neglected due to their lack of interest.
- The case above illustrates that much of the preparatory work was undertaken by a non-appointed staff member. Is your party wall matter going to be dealt with by the appointed surveyor or a less senior/experienced member of staff?
Whilst there are a number of honest, reputable and hard working practitioners, the minority exploit this statutory function for financial gain or are simply remiss to the legal framework which again can have adverse financial implications.
At TK Surveying Group our core ethos is to ensure that we progress our appointments, expertly, efficiently and effectively and we appreciate that as with all construction related matters communication is key.
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