We are in the Process of a Buying a House. During the Survey Stage, it came to light that the Owner of the Property had Previously Removed the Chimney Breasts.

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question

We are in the process of a buying a house. During the survey stage, it came to light that the owner of the property had previously removed the chimney breasts in the living room and bedroom on the party wall. He then, without permission, attached brackets to the party wall to help support the remaining chimney stack. A structural engineer recommended that this structure was a potential major health and safety issue.

To continue with the purchase of the property, we insisted that the owner consulted structural engineers and builders to provide the proper amount of support to the chimney stack and to obtain party wall agreement with the neighbours about the work.

This has now been done, but I don’t think a schedule of condition was carried out on the neighbour’s chimney / structure. The question remains about any damage that may have been caused to the neighbour’s chimney / structure as a result of the initial attempt to support the chimney stack. I do not want to be in a position where we buy the house and then a couple of years later, structural problems are noticed with the neighbour’s property which are then traced back to when the chimney breasts where removed and not supported correctly.

Because the work has now been completed without a schedule of condition being carried out beforehand, would it be prudent to insist the vendor of the property obtain a schedule of condition on the neighbour’s chimney stack to protect ourselves against any possible problems in the future? Or does the party wall agreement that has been signed by the neighbours provide indemnity?

Answer

A schedule of condition recorded after the notifiable work has been completed would be of little use – the purpose of the schedule is primarily to assist in attributing blame for any damage that occurs during the construction phase. Any longer term damage which occurs as a result of the works, such as a leaning chimney stack would be more attributable to the engineering input.

Gallows brackets are a very common way of supporting a chimney stack so if the design has been reviewed by a structural engineer you should not be overly concerned.

Follow-up

So if there were any problems in future, is it the case that the builder and engineer who recently designed and added the extra beam to support the chimney stack would be responsible? I’m just trying to get to the bottom of future liability should anything happen.

Answer

Yes, you would look to the builder initially but if the work has been carried out in accordance with the engineer’s instructions it is the engineer that would be liable.