Advancing Standards in Party Wall Surveying
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 applies throughout England and Wales. The rights, obligations and procedures that it provides for are set out in only seventeen sections, some of which comprise only one or two clauses. At first sight it appears relatively simple to apply but it is in fact a particularly complex piece of legislation that can be a minefield for the unwary.
Although derived from earlier Acts of Parliament (Metropolitan Building Act 1855, London Building Act 1894 et al) it is, in legislative terms, still fairly new and there are a significant number of aspects over which both party wall surveyors and lawyers specializing in party wall matters, cannot agree. In many cases it is not what the Act says so much as what it doesn’t say that matters.
The level of confusion in one Court of Appeal case was such that a judge recommended that the deputy head of civil justice should consider whether guidance needed to be given as to the form of procedure to be followed when an appeal is conducted against an award made under the Act. In the last two years there have been a spate of court cases where procedures that were matters of common practice have been ruled unlawful.
Party wall surveyors need to be able to identify the anomalies and drafting errors within the Act, understand the arguments for and against different interpretations of it where there is disagreement, and be aware of the impact of recent legal decisions on party wall surveying practice.
A surveyor’s appointment under the Act is a statutory one and their actions should be in accordance with the standards expected of members of a statutory tribunal. This includes an absolute obligation to act impartially. Sadly, many surveyors do not do so.
Party wall surveying is unregulated. There is no governing body overseeing the work that surveyors undertake. Only a Court of Law has the power to consider challenges to the decisions surveyors make.