The desired outcome for any owner serving party wall notices is a consent – it allows them to take advantage of the benefits of the Act, such as the right of access, without having to stump up for surveyors’ fees. However, adjoining owners consenting to party wall notices is still a relatively rare thing, I’ve not run the numbers but my sense is that it’s no more than 1 in every 5 served.
To understand why that might be the case we need to consider a typical adjoining owner’s reasoning. Now, you might think that the number one reason would be ‘because it doesn’t cost them anything’ but I don’t think that’s the case, owners do not cause their neighbours to incur surveyors’ fees unless they have a legitimate reason to do so (or unless they are just plain spiteful but that’s an incredibly small percentage).
The most common reason is actually a vague uneasiness about the risk of damage to their property and inconvenience to their everyday life. I say ‘vague’ because it’s seldom one specific thing. The Party Wall Act does not require a dissenting adjoining owner to set out their reasons (because there would be a deemed dissent after 14 days anyway) but if it did we’d probably find that many of them were either unrelated to the party wall works or possible to overcome without appointing a surveyor.
Wanting confirmation that damage caused by the works will be made good is a common reason but that’s written into the Act and applies whether the notice is consented to or not.
Then there is the continuing confusion between planning and party wall procedures – part of any initial call from an adjoining owner in receipt of a party wall notice will invariably be spent explaining that the party wall and planning processes run entirely separately. It surprises many neighbours to know that the Act does not force building owners to pay for a surveyor to try and overturn a planning decision that has already been confirmed.
There are several ways in which a building owner can avoid these misunderstandings and improve their chances of gaining a consent. The most obvious one is to speak to their neighbours early in the process, warn them that a party wall notice is on the way and briefly explain the purpose of the Act.
If the works require planning consent they have effectively been made public and it’s likely that the adjoining owner will have received a handful of letters from surveyors offering their services. Some of these letters can be scaremongering in nature so to make it easy for the adjoining owner to do their own research it might be a good idea to leave them with a copy of the Government Explanatory Booklet.
Consents can be conditional and one of the most obvious conditions would be for the building owner to pay for an experienced surveyor to take a record of the condition of their neighbour’s property before the work starts. A schedule of condition will be considerably cheaper than the cost of one or two surveyors producing a party wall award and will benefit both owners.
Finally, by consenting to a party wall notice an adjoining owner does not lose any of their rights including the right to appoint a surveyor later in the process if a specific dispute arises. This is not made clear on most party wall notices and is another reason for building owners to ensure that the first their neighbour hears of the proposals is not via a formal notice.
If you’d like to discuss the contents of this post or have a question relating to any part of the party wall process you’re welcome to contact us by email or on 020 8546 7211.