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Legal Guide For Surveyors


So, you’ve built a career as a chartered surveyor, or perhaps a commercial surveyor, but it’s time for a new challenge. Maybe you’ve watched your employers and, more than once, have been struck by the thought, ‘I can do that’. And so now you’re going to become an independent surveyor or even launch your own property surveying company. It’s going to be an amazing adventure and running your own business can give you autonomy and ownership over your professional life. There’s going to be a lot to do and a lot to learn. So, before you embark on this venture, let’s check you’ve mitigated your risks, understand your compliance obligations and have considered all of the legalities.


Here is my legal guide for surveyors:


Legal Factors And Considerations for Surveyors 


  • Have a complaints-handling procedure

  • Offer an alternative dispute resolution solution if you can’t respond to complaints yourself, or if you are unable to resolve a dispute

  • Be accountable to the RICS if you're accused of not operating responsibly

  • Be willing to be subject to auditing and monitoring as required by the regulator to ensure you are meeting with their standards

  • Hold professional indemnity insurance (more on this further down)


It’s important to understand that RICS is a regulator tasked with ensuring that industry standards are met. However, they are also there to protect you against false accusations and to celebrate your firm as one that is deemed trustworthy and compliant.


Services Agreement For Chartered Surveyors


A robust services agreement is essential for any service supplier. It may be even more important for surveyors. You are being put in a position as an independent organisation to be an objective informant and sometimes that may mean giving your client an assessment they don’t want to receive. Naturally, this is your duty as a surveyor and this must be upheld. This makes you unique as a service provider because your objective is not necessarily to please your client. Therefore, it's important you are legally protected in order that your business may thrive and you remain legally and morally compliant, despite how clients may feel about your survey.


Service agreements (or terms and conditions/terms of business) are highly important and should be drafted properly. You need a document that is balanced and caters to both your and your client’s needs. Many templates are available online but, since this document may be unique to your business, it’s best to consult a commercial solicitor to draft a bespoke document or purchase a template, with proper guidance, written by a professional.


Here are some of the key things to pay attention to in your services agreement for surveyors:


Scope of Project


Your terms and conditions, or service agreement, should explain the scope of the project. Specifying exactly what you do and what you don't survey. This must be both clear and detailed.


Clarify what you will be assessing and how, including the access you will need to be able to do so. This might involve certain permissions, such as moving objects or even taking up carpeting, etc.


Disclaimers


As a surveyor, you will likely need multiple disclaimers in your services agreement. These are designed to protect your business and absolve you of unreasonable responsibilities. Used and drafted properly, disclaimers promote transparency and establish the parameters of obligation.


Many surveyor contracts place a disclaimer at the beginning of the document. This is used to uphold the integrity of the entire document and the instructed work. Clients must be able to immediately recognise and understand that you are an independent entity, regulated and accountable to the RICS rules of conduct and as such the reports and instructions that result from a survey are unbiased and meet professional standards expectations.


Disclaimers are important for commercial and other chartered surveyors but, as with any legal document, these must be found to be reasonable and enforceable if the contract ever comes under scrutiny. For instance, when relied on as part of legal proceedings.


Fees and Payment Terms


As in any service agreement, fees and payment terms are important to clarify to ensure your business is fairly compensated for its work.


You must clearly lay out the fees for the work, including when and how you expect to be paid. This might include deposits and then either upfront fees, staggered payments or payment upon completion of the work. You may wish to assess the payment structures typically adopted by your competitors/contemporaries but you may still decide what is necessary for your business to thrive. If you are, for instance, a young business with more overheads than income, you may require upfront payment being that you risk not having the means to pursue delayed or unpaid payments. Once you are more established, you may encompass more flexibility.


Fees and payment terms can be set by you and to be agreed by the client. Your legal obligation is to be clear and transparent about these throughout any proposal or procurement process and in your T&Cs or service agreement.


Insurance


Firms regulated by the RICS are required to have professional indemnity insurance. Any business operating in the UK though is advised to have this even if it is not a legal requirement. It is essential for protecting you against claims of misconduct, negligence or failure to meet professional standards. Not having insurance puts businesses at high risk because the ability to defend yourself may even be unattainable due to cost if you are not covered by insurance.


In addition, you may find that clients are unwilling to work with you if you do not have the proper insurance in place. I advise thoroughly researching your insurance options - read all the small print and pick the insurer who you feel you can put your trust in.


Health And Safety


You have a duty of care to your business, yourself, your staff and the general public. This may encompass risk assessments and procedures that aim to keep anyone working under your instruction safe. Properly assessing work sites and taking action to mitigate risks should be documented and communicated to anyone working with you or who may be onsite during site visits. It is advisable to work closely with clients for each project to ensure that potential health and safety issues and risks are known, so that you may together take action to mitigate risk and ensure all on-site understand how to protect themselves and follow procedures that you set out.


Proper equipment and clothing may be required for some tasks and insurance policies may also demand certain safety measures be taken to ensure compliance also. 


The RICS provides guidance for how surveyors may keep themselves and their staff safe, especially onsite.


Website Obligations for Surveyor Firms


As a business owner, you will likely have a website and as a website owner, there are certain legal documents you need to display, including a cookie policy, a privacy policy and possibly your terms and conditions, depending on whether you process transactions.


As a business, it is likely inevitable that you will collect and process data. Therefore, you must have a privacy policy as well as a reasonable understanding of UK data protection laws and your obligations. It is your responsibility to protect any information that you collect. This stands from the initial information given in the inquiry process, through to more complex and in-depth information gathered through any working partnerships.


In order to comply you should understand the principles and best practices laid out in General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and put procedures in place to ensure compliance.


You must also, under EU law (still in practice at the time of publication) display a cookie consent when someone accesses your website.  Please see my free cookie guidance here on how to work out what cookies are being used on your website and then what you should be doing with that information.


Find out more about website best practice and legal compliance in my Lightbulbs on Website Compliance Summary which aims to answer the most common questions for business website owners.


Further Legal Support For Chartered Surveyors


As a commercial solicitor, I’ve worked with surveyor firms seeking to protect their business and learn more about how to be industry compliant. 


Please reach out for any drafting of legal documents, guidance or further solicitor support for your chartered surveyor business. I can help you ensure you are enacting all the principles of your profession under the full protection of industry standards and legal compliance. Get in touch today.

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