What is the intention of the Party Wall Act?
In order to best consider the intention of The Party Wall Act, it is good to go back to 31st January 1996 when the Party Wall Bill was introduced to the House of Lords by the Earl of Lytton of stated:
‘The aims of the Bill are to extend the tried and tested provisions of the London Building Acts to England and Wales. It rests upon a principle of voluntary agreement between parties wherever possible; it provides for notice to be given where works are proposed; there is an opportunity to respond and comment; it sets out to protect existing structures; there is a clear liability for damage and making good; there is provision for the resolution of disputes, other than by going to law; it sets out how costs of works and fees arising from them shall be dealt with; and clarifies the extent of rights over common structures, including floors – that is, floors between different units of occupation. So the Bill is a safety net and not a fiery hoop’.
Section 10 of the Act concerns ‘resolution of disputes’ and the Earl of Lytton stated:
‘Clause 10 deals with the resolution of disputes. In this particular instance, both parties can agree on the appointment of one surveyor. That is a step to be recommended most strongly, particularly for householders carrying out small works. Alternatively, the parties may each appoint a surveyor. These, in turn, will nominate a third surveyor who is called in to adjudicate only in the few instances of sustained disagreement. Between them, they will produce an agreement or award. Normally a party wall surveyor or third surveyor cannot be removed, but the Bill provides for instances where surveyors are unwilling or unable to act.
The duty of party wall surveyors is quasi-arbitral. Once appointed they have a duty to act properly in the interests of both parties as statutory surveyors, which is a most important safeguard. Experience indicates that the great majority of disputed cases are dealt with by agreement between surveyors. The building owner generally meets the cost of the adjoining owner's surveyor. But that is not a licence to charge excessive fees and there are generally prior agreements on charges. Safeguards are provided where a party to the dispute neglects to appoint a surveyor, in which case the other party may appoint one on his behalf. There is a fall back power whereby the local authority makes the appointment of a third surveyor on application of one surveyor if there is a breakdown in the normal procedures.’
Interpretation of The Party Wall Act can be through a number of sources: The Pyramus and Thisbie Club; The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors; RICS Guidance Notes; Third Surveyor referrals and Case Law all contribute to the ever-changing interpretation of the Act. These sources are excellent ways of gathering information on the Act but it can do no harm going back to the start when the Bill was introduced to the House of Lords.
Click on the link below to see details of Mr Lytton’s introduction of the Party Wall Act to the House of Lords on 31st January 1996: