The Party Wall Act 1996 (PWA) is not to be confused with the focal point of effervescent students having a wild night behind the refectory! Unless you are a home or building owner approached by a neighbour wanting to make structural changes inches behind your wallpaper, chances are you won’t have given the PWA much thought. Whilst the majority of extensions, loft conversions and basement excavations are unobtrusive and uneventful, sometimes things go wrong, and that is just when our client steps in. Their fees in such matters are normally paid by the offending party, thereby leaving the aggrieved no worse off than before. This instruction was no different.
Pointing out the Obvious
Our client had been hurriedly engaged by a householder in response to the reckless actions of a contractor tasked by a property investment company to convert the next-door house into flats. At the commencement of the project, our client immediately highlighted a couple of major issues. The first was planning permission had lapsed. The second was the remodelling of a shared wall had caused visible damage on the householders’ side to the point where the damp course layer had failed. Construction is more a science than it is a game of brute force, which means the physics and chemistry of structural engineering are way above any sandcastle or flatpack you’ve had a go at. How many surveyors does it take to agree the householder is the aggrieved party? The answer is three, one each for either side and a third acting as an impartial judge. Just because the third surveyor agrees PWA costs should be borne by the aggressor, it doesn’t mean they simply hand over payment.
Our client had surveys, submissions and numerous hours invested in the £5K invoice. Three months after the invoice and two since the remedial work had been carried out, there was still no sign of payment. Commercial insurance was covering most of the damage and was repeatedly used as an excuse not to make payment. Upon instruction, Advocate made contact with the property investment company, who at first denied any knowledge of the invoice or our client’s involvement. Interestingly our client provided an email trail showing how the invoice was first served on the debtor’s surveyors, who, after some encouragement, had elaborated on which office to follow up with. Our role was not to tutor the debtor in why the award went in the householder’s favour but more to remind them the debt was not going away. From the debtor’s accounts and their contractor’s, we could see cash flow was neither party’s strong point of late based on the steady trickle of CCJs. It was only when we explained our client was about to proceed with a winding-up petition that they suddenly found the £5K. To save face, the debtor tried to excuse the late payment sighting personal issues. However, when you employ several hundred people and have an accounts team of ten, that justification falls away quicker than a sandcastle at high tide!