As an experienced party wall surveyor in London, we come across some proper horrors. Over the years we’ve heard of plenty of incredibly dangerous building projects without party wall agreements and others that have gone wrong despite a perfectly good legal party wall agreement.
Sometimes the house next door is so badly affected that part of it crumbles and falls down. Sometimes a construction company builds a party wall on adjoining land, actually on someone else’s land, without permission, which leads to the neighbours being taken to court to get the unauthorised footings and walls taken down.
Here are some of the worst things that could happen to you if you decide not to use a proper surveyor, don’t get all the right permissions, or find yourself in a battle with a rogue builder.
Falling foul of the 1996 Party Wall etc Act
While the 1996 Party Wall etc Act doesn’t say an appointed surveyor must actually be a person qualified in building surveying or engineering, it’s the norm to hire a proper surveyor. Not just someone who says they can do the job has worked on building sites for a few years or, as in one case we heard about, wasn’t a surveyor at all but a solicitor with none of the right experience. As you can imagine, the job in question turned out to be disastrous, a legal nightmare that was very expensive to fix.
In one 2011 case a couple lost everything. They bought their £345,000 one-bed flat then decided to create a cellar extension to give them more room. The ‘botched’ work caused ‘devastating’ cracks to appear in the property horribly fast, the builders fled, and the entire building ultimately had to be demolished. The resulting legal battle went on for years and by 2015, the last we heard, the site of the building was still empty and deserted.
The couple involved did everything by the book, with all the right permissions from planning and buildings control, plus the relevant party-wall agreements. In this case, the builder was at fault. The builder’s insurer said the builder’s policy was invalid because he had broken terms of it thanks to the ‘incompetent way he worked’. And the freeholder’s insurer rejected the couple’s claim because a clause in the policy denied liability if the building fell down on its own, having decided the house in question had indeed fallen down ‘on its own’.
When you can and cannot claim compensation
If a building’s owner is carrying out works relevant to the Act and your property is damaged as a result, they should compensate you. The right to compensation also extends to adjoining occupiers, which means tenants and other residents might also be able to claim compensation too. On the other hand, if a building’s owner is working on an existing party wall that’s already in poor shape, in a state of disrepair, there’s no compensation available.
A qualified party wall surveyor can save your financial life
Thousands of party wall awards are made every year. Luckily only a handful of them ends up in court. But when they do, neighbour to neighbour disputes can be extraordinarily expensive and distressing.
As the judge said in a landmark legal case, Bradford & Bradford v. James & Others  EWCA Civ 837, “There are too many calamitous neighbour disputes in the courts… By continuing to bring a sensible and co-operative approach to bear on party wall issues, surveyors can protect their appointing owners from a great deal of unnecessary difficulty and expense.”
Let’s make sure you get everything 100% right first time
If you have a building project in mind with a party wall element to it, make sure you appoint a properly qualified, experienced RICS surveyor to take your side. They will make sure everything is done properly and done well, ticking the right legal boxes so that even if something does go wrong, you can be protected. If you need advice, give us a call.