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The Party Wall Act - Does it go far enough?

I came across a Party Wall aspect recently that got me thinking; so I thought I would share it with you.

I was approached for advice on a circumstance where Party A was served with a Party Wall Notice by a PW surveyor on behalf of Party B. Party B was planning to conduct a substantial amount of works to his large town house (terrace) which involved significant works on and around the actual wall which separated the two properties. It involved extending upwards and outwards and in a couple of instances extending upwards the actual ‘party’ wall. They (Party B) were in the throws of the planning process, a structural Engineer had designed the necessary and a Building Control application was in process. The PW notice offered to involve the same PW surveyor, or indeed as per the act, employ a separate surveyor on behalf of Party A. All well and good?... well sort of!

The problem with the Party Wall Act and its rules is that all aspects are in effect reactive and not proactive. The theory is that the surveyor(s) record the condition of each property to establish and agree what, if any, defects exist before works commence, so it can then be easily proven if something changes. Then, the subsequent defects can be corrected by the party conducting the works during the works and keeps everyone happy.

But who’s to say that problems, due to say shoddy or ignorant workmanship might not rear their ugly heads until later; long after the builder has completed, been paid and left. What about if there were no builder under contract with a retention, or no professional (Architect or Project Manager) involved, who would then take on a liability role. Where does this leave the injured party who’s perhaps on the end of a damp problem, caused by the works, but has taken nine months to manifest?

The conclusion therefore is that the Party Wall Act offers very little protection against works that the potentially injured party has absolutely no say over, other than if the issue becomes apparent whilst works are in progress. The Act does allow for scrutiny of the design, but not for scrutiny of the actual works, and whilst in most cases Building Control are inspecting certain elements, they are not policemen nor Clerk of the Works.

I have suggested that in this case, Party B strongly suggests the inclusion of a professional (ahem!) acting on their behalf who can police the elements of the works which could cause problems for them if not built correctly. However; clearly much of the prosed works are not pertinent to Party B and therefore none of their business. The Act does not cater for Party A paying for this input, but in this case, at least Party B has piece of mind.

A PW surveyor that I know could see no issue with this, but unfortunately it is not part of the act so in theory, Party A could refuse.

Watch this space!

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