Whether you are selling or buying a property an issue that often arises is when changes have been made to a property. A buyer will want to know if the appropriate planning consents and building regulation approvals have been obtained and sellers can often find themselves struggling to provide evidence that the correct procedures were followed. This can delay the sale or purchase and result in additional costs and expenses for all parties.
Planning consent is issued by the Local Authority Planning Department. The majority of major changes to an existing property will require planning consent, although there are exceptions.
There are a lot of different factors that can determine whether you will need planning consent for a change you wish to make to your property. Before undertaking any work to your property you should consider confirming with the Local Authority if planning consent is needed for the alteration. If it is required, you should submit the appropriate application and if it is not required, you should ask the Local Authority to confirm this in writing. Any response you receive from the Local Authority should be kept in case you need to provide it to a buyer.
Building Regulation Approval
Building Regulations were introduced to regulate the standard of construction of properties in England and Wales. They also address the requirements home owners have regarding access to a property and their ability to move around it including home owners who may have disabilities and the energy efficiency of a building.
The majority of changes undertaken to a property will require building regulation approval. This is the case even if planning consent was not required.
Building Regulations and the Competent Persons Schemes
Certain works, for example, electrical works, changes to the heating system or installation of a new boiler, installation of new windows and installation of solar panels will require either building regulation approval or must be carried out by a member of a competent person’s scheme. A home owner should be given a certificate by the person that carries out the changes as evidence that the changes comply with building regulation requirements. It is important that you ask the contractor for these certificates and retain them because copies of these documents cannot be obtained from the Local Authority.
Planning Portal Website
A useful source of information for home owners is the Planning Portal website.
This site provides guidance for homeowners on when they may require planning consent and / or building regulation approval for certain works including the addition of a garage, porch or conservatory. It also provides information on what works should be carried out by a member of a competent persons scheme and when you should be provided with certificates to evidence that those works were carried out properly.
What if you are a buyer?
The main concerns for a buyer are whether:
You are at risk of a Local Authority taking enforcement action and requiring that the changes are removed or works undertaken to them because the correct consents and approvals were not obtained;
The changes to the property were carried out correctly and constructed properly and meet building standards applicable at the time they were undertaken;
The appropriate consents and approvals were applied for but refused and the works carried out any way; and
There is a risk you may incur costs in the future correcting problems with the construction of the changes or in removing them because they were not carried out safely or properly.
If changes to a property were not carried out properly it may affect the value of the property and your ability to sell it in the future. If you are purchasing the property with the assistance of a mortgage your banks’ requirements will also need to be addressed.
You should make sure that you tell your solicitor about any changes you think have been made to the property or that your survey has revealed (including the addition of an extension, garage, porch, conservatory, outhouse, conversion of a loft or basement into living accommodation or removal of a wall between rooms). This will then allow your solicitor to ask the seller for the appropriate consents and approvals and advise you accordingly.
If the seller cannot provide evidence that the correct consents and approvals were obtained, your solicitor will be able to discuss your options with you. The options will include asking the seller to make enquiries of the Local Authority Planning and Building Control Departments and asking the seller to obtain retrospective consents and approvals if they were not obtained at the time the changes were made. Another option may be indemnity insurance, although this is not available in all circumstances. Whether indemnity insurance is appropriate will depend on the individual buyer and the nature and age of the works. However, once enquiries have been made of the Local Authority it may no longer be available and therefore you should not contact the Local Authority without first speaking to your solicitor.
You should make sure that your surveyor has inspected any changes to the property and tells you if there may be structural problems with them or they may not have been carried out properly. This is particularly the case if there is no evidence the correct consents and approvals were obtained and you wish to proceed without them.
What if you are a Seller?
When selling a home you should check if you have all the necessary documentation for any changes you or previous owners have made and if you do not, discuss your options with your solicitor.
You should not contact the Local Authority Planning or Building Regulation Departments or make any enquiries without speaking to you solicitor first. This is because depending on the nature and age of the works a buyer may be prepared to proceed without the consents and approvals. They may be prepared to accept indemnity insurance if it is available. This is often the quickest and cheapest way to address the issue as a seller, but if you have contacted the Local Authority, indemnity insurance may no longer be an option available to you.