Can I Avoid Payments on a Technicality?

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question

I am the property owner who has carried out the works.  My Architect served the PWA letters before commencement (September 2008).  One side signed and the other went in to “dispute”.

For the dispute, I verbally agreed to use my neighbour’s Architect and to pay his fees.  Once the works commenced, I was sent a “draft” PWA via email which had some errors and was never ratified.  My Architect told me that the neighbour wanted £1500, being half the assumed value to use the wall he had previously built for his own ground floor extension.  The Architect fees in the “draft” were £55.00 which seemed wrong.

The project took 10 months and no PWA has been presented to me or awarded.  I have not received any paperwork to sign or any paperwork whatsoever and the £1500 or the fees has not been mentioned by the neighbour. The project finished in July 2009. Also, my Architect has now emigrated to USA. Two weeks ago, the neighbour’s Achitect poped a letter through my door asking for his fees of £700 + the £1500 to the neighbour.  He said the delay was because of his “work load”.  Im not sure what a PWA looks like, but there is nothing for me to sign or no other paperwork, just the demand for payment.

My question is, has my neighbour’s Architect failed to serve the PWA to me in accordance with the Act and can I therefore refuse to pay either his fees or my neighbours claim?  No damage has been done to the party wall and the works finished many months ago. In effect, can I avoid these payments on a “technicality” and if my neighbour is unhappy, he can pursue his Architect rather than me as I have not made the error?

If you can give some advice, I would be very grateful

Answer

Most surveyors use draft awards which have been drawn up by one of the relevant professional bodies but amend them according to the specifics of the work. The owners do not sign the award, only the surveyor – it is also usual to have the surveyor’s signature witnessed. It cannot be served on the owners by email. I am surprised that the surveyor sent you a draft of the award as it should be produced without any influence from either owner.

It was the duty of the ‘Agreed’ surveyor to calculate the compensation due to your neighbour for the use of his wall – the Party Wall Act sets out how that should be done. He should not have consulted your neighbour on that point.

From what you say it doesn’t sound as though a valid award was ever served on the owners.

As to whether you can get out of paying the surveyor’s fee on a technicality I would need to go through the process in detail to determine whether the surveyor performed his duty adequately and that is not the purpose of this advice service.

Whether or not an award was served the compensation for the use of the adjoining owner’s wall would still be due. That would have been due even if your neighbour had consented to the works and not appointed a surveyor.