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Why have a Condition Survey before making a Party Wall Award?

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

The Party Wall etc Act 1996 makes no mention of a Schedule of Condition (aka "Condition Survey"), so it shouldn't be surprising that we are often asked "what's it for?", and "why do Party Wall Surveyors nearly always insist on one?".

There are three main reasons to answer "what is it for?"

1) would be to protect the Building Owner (the party undertaking the work) from having to put right or compensate the Adjoining Owner for 'damage' that was pre-existing (i.e. cracks present before they started the Notifiable works)

2) is to enable the Surveyor(s) to assess the construction of the Adjoining Owner's Building/Structure for a more informed view of the potential impact that the works might have, and in particular any unusual or unpredicted need for safeguarding of the the Adjoining Owner's property.

3) and also as 'evidence' that damage wasn't present prior to works starting should the Adjoining Owner have a legitimate claim for damage caused.

In our opinion number 3 in the list is not reason-enough on it's own to justify the Building Owner paying for the Condition Survey as [unless damage is inevitable] damage occurring after the Award is not a dispute that needs resolving before a primary Award i.e. how can it be a dispute if it hasn't happened yet, and the Party Wall Surveyors' main purpose is to resolve a "Dispute". The irony is that number 3 is most commonly the reason the Adjoining Owners actually appoint a Party Wall Surveyor in the first place. The way the Act is written the Adjoining Owner can appoint a Party Wall Surveyor without giving any reason and so, more's the point, they must therefore be entitled to appoint Party Wall Surveyor even if a reason is not in keeping with the intended purpose of the Act.

So if the Act doesn't mention Condition Surveys as being a requirement, and if there were a situation when neither party wants a Condition Survey, then quite possibly the Owners could object to one being undertaken. Perhaps the Building Owner on grounds of cost; and perhaps the Adjoining Owner on the basis of inconvenience. In that instance, in which both or one of the parties object, then the Party Wall Surveyor(s) have the authority to make a reasonable decision whether there are still grounds for going ahead with the Schedule of Condition. Part of that "reasonable decision" would include considering the "reasonable cost" of the formality. On a case-by-case basis, there are often 'reasonable grounds'.

So to the second point "why do Party Wall Surveyors nearly always insist on a condition Survey?". Well there would be lots of debate amongst Surveyors on this point, we would suspect that for some it would be 'habit' or 'it's what they normally do'. However, for us at PBSC we are rather more "case-by-case specific" and whilst it would be fair to say a Condition Survey attached to an Award is far more common than not, we are doing so for good reasons... and mostly for the reasons listed 1 or 2 above.


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