How Can I Challenge an Agreed Surveyor?

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question

Last August I was doing a loft conversion to my terraced flat and my neighbour requested that we get a party wall drawn up. I suggested one surveyor but he said that he would prefer using another firm of surveyors that he had dealt with for many years. In an effort to speed the process along and keep costs down I agreed to this surveyor. 

The loft was done according to my structural engineer’s specifications and the surveyor seemed pleased with the work they had done. Any minor damage my builders caused, i.e knocking a few tiles of my neighbours roof they replaced and informed him of this.

This March I received a letter from the surveyor saying that my neighbour had asked to inspect his property again and that the surveyor had noted that 3 areas of deterioration had occurred. These were a worsening of existing cracks to the party wall, worsening of cracks to an internal partition, both of which were photographically documented in the party wall award and new fractures to a flank wall on the far side of my neighbour’s building which was not photographically documented.  

The surveyor said that there has been some past settlement between the main building and back addition and that this weakness appeared to have been exacerbated by the building works undertaken by me. He then asked if I could ask my contractor to price up these remedial works. 

I performed an inspection of the building with my contractor who seemed surprised that any of the deterioration would have been caused by works I had undertaken and asked if I had copies of the photos contained in the party wall award. Upon examination of these photos all areas seemed identical from the shots taken before work commenced in August 2008 and subsequently in March 2009.

It was also the case that the structural engineer that undertook the calculations and design was adamant that any fracturing on the far wall could not be as a result of the works I undertook. However having gotten some free advice off RICS, I am told that as the surveyor was agreed by me I have no recourse short of taking him to court if I think he has acted negligently.  

Do I have any other recourse before things get this far down the line and is the surveyor even correct to say that the works I carried out are continuing to damage next doors flat 8 months after the event????

Answer

There are no procedures under the Act for challenging the opinion of an Agreed Surveyor, all party wall surveyors have a duty to act impartially so there should not be any question of them favouring one owner over another – unfortunately this is not always true in practice.   

While it is not unusual for a structure to take some time to settle following the application of additional loads, the more time that goes by the more difficult it would be to argue a link. The surveyor would normally check off the schedule once the works had been completed and record any damage at that time.   

I would agree that it is unlikely that cracks would appear in the flank wall as a result of placing additional loads on the party wall – it’s actually rare for cracks to appear in a party wall following a loft conversion so long as the weight is spread out by the use of padstones or plates. The flank wall was not included in the schedule because it was considered by the surveyor to be remote – that view shouldn’t have changed.   

Photographs can be misleading and should only be used in conjunction with the written schedule. All of the cracks that were considered relevant should have been listed and a note of their widths made.   

If your surveyor is not also an engineer he should be employing an engineer to comment on the likelihood of the cracks being related. You may want to suggest this to him. Although you will have to cover the engineer’s fee it should be quite a bit less that the cost of repairing the damage.

Follow-up

Thanks very much for your response. The surveyor has said that all the cracks except for those on the flank wall were existing but have since deteriorated. These were all originally noted in the original award. The digital pictures I have of these areas are exactly the same to look at and I would be very confident that there is no deterioration to speak of in any areas.  

When I asked the surveyor to list what he thought had deteriorated subsequent to the conversion and as a direct result he said that it was all of the existing cracks. I also asked as to what he meant by remedial works and he did not provide an answer.  

After that I asked the building owner and he said that he would want the internal cracks and plaster stripped back to the brickwork and either stapled, steels inserted or bricks replaced. The same on the outside brickwork on the flank wall! 

The neighbour below him whose house has not been touched up in 40 years by the look of it is now also getting in on the act and wants all her cracks repaired! 

I am very worried that the surveyor could make my life very difficult for me if he decides to and am conscious of the fact that my neighbour is friendly with him. Should I be thinking about getting solicitors involved or would an impartial structural engineer be able to lay this to rest????

Follow-up

I’d recommend getting a structural engineer’s opinion before involving solicitors. Allowing the surveyor to instruct that engineer should be fine as long as they have the necessary qualifications and experience. They may also want to check your original engineer’s calculations.