Tain't what you're doing

Adventures of the mobile and static kind

Friday, 26 December 2014

Prepare yourselves for a new world terror: the Party Wall Surveyor

Readers' warning; the following post contains moaning worthy of a particularly depressing episode of Eastenders. If you like your blogs of a sunny disposition you may wish to turn your attention to Martine McCutcheon's postings in Hello magazine online:

To any potential house developers who may have strayed onto this site accidentally from diynot.com (a site dedicated to dispensing DIY advice with all the sensitivity of an underemployed UKIP supporter, and which contains a surprisingly large amount of advertisements for Russian brides): your initial instincts to just build extensions without informing the relevant authorities are probably well placed. It seems that a system has been set up to completely discourage anybody from doing things the 'correct' way.

To anybody else who does not know what the Party Wall etc * Act, 1996 is: essentially when you want to do some work on your house that is more than simply dusting the dado rail you have to SERVE NOTICE on your neighbour telling them just what beastly things you are going to be doing.
(I have used capital letters here to emphasise the sense of foreboding you feel when writing what is essentially an ultra-British polite letter).
Your neighbour can either agree and sign the notice saying, yes indeed you can not only dust the dado rail but also paint it too (or dig foundations near their house which happened in our case), or disagree. If the latter is the case then they can agree to the Party Wall Surveyor you appoint or appoint their own.
The main reason for my current discontent is that the building owner doing the works has to cough up for both surveyors and has no control over the fee the surveyor charges.
Now I'm not completely unreasonable (except when it comes to Jeremy Clarkson where all sense of rationality is both pointless and misplaced) and I expect that we should have to pay for a process that has been designed to protect people from their neighbours erecting things next to their house willy nilly. However at the point one of our neighbours indeed dissented and appointed their own surveyor (a Mr Hibbs) we were terrified that we could be landed with a large bill that we had no control over, and this is what eventually happened.
Fortunately the other neighbour agreed and signed, but more of her later.

Our own surveyor, Doug Kingsley, I found from the Pyramus and Thisbe club. This is an organisation that 'promotes excellence in Party Wall Practice since 1974' and named after the two characters of the play within a play in A Midsummer's Night's Dream who are kept apart by a wall. The fact that these characters are played by clowns within the play has not been lost on me. 1974 was also the year that Nixon resigned as president after the Watergate scandal. I'm not saying the two events are related but both bear an uncanny resemblance to each other in terms of their relationship to massive public fraud.

Our surveyor, Mr Kingsley, was chosen essentially because he was the cheapest we could find, though as with clothing bought in Asda George, one can't expect too much of the quality.

An initial conversation I had with Mr Hibbs revealed that he was quite a doddery and elderly gentlemen quite capable of turning a short conversation into an excruciating lengthy process. It was revealed later that he had a vested interest in keeping this conversation as long as possible.

After a little tooing and froing between the two, they arranged to meet at our neighbour's property. We have never met our neighbour and the house is occupied by Polish tenants in an arrangement which leaves me confused about who actually lives there; there always seems to be too many people there than there is living space.

Days later after prodding Kingsley we discover that the meeting was not a success and the drawings that I sent to them were not adequate and they would need to come to see the site again. The email from Mr Hibbs firmly planted the blame with Kingsley who complained to us that his professional conduct was being questioned. However, as we weren't strictly speaking being employed as his emotional counsellor we were more interested in how much extra this was costing us.

After more lengthy emails ascertaining what was needed more plans were drawn with the help of a friend of mine and they met again this time with us present. Quite why they needed to come back again I don't know as Hibbs seemed more interested in bitching about our Building Control officer and telling us how important party wall surveyors were.

Anyway, after more time we were told that the Award (the piece of paper that says we could start digging) was being drawn up but that Hibbs' fee was part and parcel of it. His fee amounted to £1308.75. For telling us we can start working.

Now I can't say that I'm an expert, but over £1300 for essentially looking at a wall seems a bit much so we asked Kingsley to send us a breakdown of the enormous quantity of work Hibbs had done.
The work included the tiresome task of answering emails and phone calls, reading and (get this!) utilising a skill he must have had had to go to primary school for; writing.
All of this was minuted at £150 plus VAT per hour, meaning £3 per minute.
Highlights included a 10 minute phone conversation I had with him right at the beginning asking whether he could also represent us (the excruciating one). That's £30 please. The fact that he hadn't mentioned that we were on the clock or that he was charging this amount was neither here nor there to him.

The only recourse we had was to take him to court and pay solicitors fees, or simply not build the bloody thing.
In desperation I picked up this computer and wrote to You and Yours, the Radio 4 consumer watchdog programme.
Surprisingly they were only too interested in my story and in a pristine BBC recording studio I was interviewed by Winifred Owen who with her soothing voice allowed me to unfurl the evil being brought into the world by the Party Wall Surveyor.

Of course Mr Hibbs denied any wrongdoing and merely sent us another invoice, and I have no doubt he cannot see why what he is doing is tantamount to fraud. But then I'm also pretty sure Tony Blair fundamentally believes he was absolutely right to go to war in Iraq.
Again, I'm not saying there is any link to Hibbs and Islamic State but I suspect that if a Kurdish neighbour wanted to build a small single storey-extension onto their mid-terrace house in northern Iraq he would only too happy to represent IS and charge the hapless Kurds for the inconvenience.

Anyway I have got away from all of this terror over Christmas by going to see my mother in her house without holes (or party walls), separate myself from misery by reading a Guardian article on couples who divorce before they are 30 and hang out with my increasingly fertile cousins.
In many ways I'm surprised how their gonads don't simply leak semen such is their fecundity.

Let's hope their successfully directed semen don't grow up to join IS as an arbiter of neighbourly disputes.

* Incidentally; what is this etc all about? Does it replace other words that they couldn't be bothered to mention in the title? Is the full title something like 'Party Wall, red-tape obsessed, complete self-serving and pointlessly designed to rip off the hard-working people TM of the UK Act, 1996?'