A dispute with respect to the party wall sense of the word need not be much of a dispute at all, even if the act says that it is a dispute. Under the party wall Act 1996, if an adjoining owner is not giving the consent within 14 days after receiving the notice of the proposed construction, the parties are then considered to be “in dispute”. Each of the owners in order to resolve the dispute, appoint a surveyor and those surveyors are then required to agree to the terms and conditions of a party wall award which is commonly also referred to as a Party wall agreement. Party wall surveyors serve their duty by being completely impartial and thus any kind of dispute or disagreement is usually said to arise when one of the parties fail to understand the act.
If in a scenario where the adjoining owner chooses to be in accord with their neighbour’s choice of surveyor as “agreed surveyor” (typically a fair decision for minor construction works) there is still a “dispute” to be fixed so an award should be drawn up and served on the owners.
In effect, what a neighbouring owner is saying when they initiate a dispute is that they would like to have their interests safeguarded by a person who recognizes work related matters and is well versed with the procedures of the Party Wall Act and the contents of a Party wall agreement. This will also help them in seeking support in case of any damage in future.
It may really not be easier for a neighbouring owner to initiate a dispute; they need not act at all. If Party Structure Notices and Notices of Adjacent Excavation are not agreed to within 14 days of receiving a notice, a dispute is believed to have risen.
The neighbouring owner can appoint a surveyor (or settle in the appointment of an agreed surveyor) within the 14 days period of receiving the notice, but they need not haste their decision. Once the 14 days period gets over, they must be sent a supplementing letter requesting them to appoint a surveyor within a period of 10 days or settle with the one who is chosen on their behalf by the owner of the building. If a building owner does gain the right to appoint a surveyor on behalf of the adjoining neighbour, then that cannot be the same surveyor that they are using; who is an Agreed Surveyor cannot be appointed unless and until both owners give their consent on that appointment in writing.
Once a dispute arises, both the building owner and the neighbouring owner change from being referred to as “clients” to be called as the “appointing owners” – the terms support the surveyor’s duty to be completely neutral and impartial. A surveyor has the rights to serve notice on behalf of their clients because at that point it is unknown that whether the neighbouring owners will give their consent to the agreement or not. If they accord there will be no award and there will be no need for appointing a party wall surveyor.