The next step in the party wall process after surveyors (or an Agreed Surveyor) have been appointed is the recording of the condition of the adjoining owner’s property; referred to as a schedule of condition. This is not part of the formal process, as in it’s not referred to anywhere within the Act, but it is routinely done and could prove invaluable should there be a dispute over the cause of reported damage.
The visit also gives the surveyors an opportunity to consider the proposals in context and assess the risks.
It is only the condition of the adjoining owner’s property that is recorded (if the building owner damages their own property that’s their lookout). The only scenario in which the surveyors would require access to the building owner’s property would be if there was part of the adjoining owner’s property, such as a flank wall, that could only be inspected from the building owner’s side.
As there is no mention of a schedule of condition in the Act there is also no guidance on its scope. It is therefore up to the appointed surveyors to decide using, what one would hope would be, their considerable building experience. As a general rule, if the works are relatively minor such as a simple extension or a loft conversion, all areas within a 3.00m radius of the proposed works would be recorded. If the works are particularly high risk, such as basement excavation or underpinning, that distance would likely be extended to 6.00m.
The normal protocol is for the notes and photographs to be taken by the surveyor acting for the building owner (or obviously by the Agreed Surveyor) while being shadowed by the adjoining owner’s surveyor – following the inspection a draft copy of the schedule will be sent to the adjoining owner’s surveyor who will, having been present when it was recorded, be equipped to comment on and agree it.
The schedule is primarily a written record i.e. a description of cracks etc. that will be supported by a set of photographs. You may ask why the written record is necessary (a photo being worth 1000 words) but photos of cracks out of context are very time-consuming to go through when trying to locate a particular defect at the end of the works. Also, it’s only recently that cameras (particularly phone cameras) have been capable of taking photos with sufficient detail to show hairline cracks.
The length and width of cracks are estimated rather than measured by the surveyors – it would just be too time-consuming to measure every crack and any surveyor worth their salt should be able to estimate distances to a reasonable degree of accuracy.
Once agreed, the schedule of condition will form part of the party wall award. These days, surveyors don’t usually include photographs, either printed or on a disk, as they will only be required if there is a dispute over the cause of damage and can be retrieved from the surveyors’ files at that point.
Should you require advice on a party wall matter or need to appoint a surveyor please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 8546 7211 or via email without obligation.