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Shanksy 05-03-2009 01:06 PM

Buying a house with no Planning Permission or Building regs for extension

I am looking for a bit of help. We are in the process of buying a house that has had an extension (single storey flat roof) and a garage converted to a reception room. We have discovered that there may not have been any planning permission or building control on either the change of use of the garage or the small single storey extension. Having discussed this with the solicitor we are being advised to take out some indemnity insurance.

The help I need is:
1) Should I take out the indemnity insurance? What does this cover? and how much would I expect to pay?
2) Should I request that the Seller informs Planning and Building Control and applies for the retrospective permissions etc?
3) Should I take the Indemnity Insurance and then wish to sell the property does the indemnity insurance pass to the purchasers?

Any help would be most appreciated.


AshfieldFOCUS.com 05-03-2009 02:59 PM


Can't you ask the sellers to provide you with any details of the work and if not, as it is currently a buyers market, ask the seller to buy the insurance?

That would probably be what I would do.

Richard Webster 16-03-2009 06:33 PM

Indemnity insurance covers future buyers but only up to the limit of the amount of cover paid for so you might have to upgrade in the future.

It only gives protection against enforcement by the Council, but not against structural failures or other inadequacies of construction - e.g wouldn't pay out if there was a fire and the damage was worse because fire protection measures required by regulations not installed. It is important therefore that you decide whether as far as you are concerned either:
  1. There is a concern about the quality of the work; or
  2. You think the work is probably OK but your concern is about hassles etc in selling in the future and the possibility of the Council taking enforcement action.
If the work is more than a year old the possibility of enforcment under building regulations is almost nil, but does theoretically exist.

An indemnity policy is not available if the Council have been contacted about the matter and usually you cannot get them until the work is at least a year old! However these policies are useful in providing comfort to mortgage lenders who do not seem to understand the reality of the position.

As far as planning permission is concerned the extension might have been "permitted development" that did not require consent. Did your solicitor check that?

Again, unless there was a specific condition on the original planning permission for the construction of the house, saying the garage had to retained as such, conversion of a garage into a habitable room is no different from converting a dining room into a bedroom or playroom. So the "change of use" of the garage might not have needed permission.

It should be possible by looking at the original permission and the permitted development rules to establish whether or not any planning permission was required without talking to the Council, except perhaps innocently to ask for a copy of the original permission. If permission is required, then it is question of assessing the risks of enforcement. They are more live than under building regulations but in general the longer the work has survived without enforcement the sillier the Council will look if it takes any action, and the more likely permisison would be given on an appeal against enforcement action. It is sensible to obtain a lack of planning permisison indemnity to protect against the costs of enforcement and costs of reinstatement if this is necessary.

It is much more diifficult to check whether the work complied with the building regulations because this will require quite a detailed technical knowledge of what is needed and may involve disruptive investgations (e.g. taking plaster off to look at RSJs that have been inserted). Therefore I would tend only to suggest that this is done if you have some real concerns about the quality of the work. You need to bear in mind that people don't in general seem to be very concerned about the construction and safety aspects of older properties e.g. terraced house built 100 years ago with attic bedroom with steep winding stairs to it.

Finally, I would ask your solicitors why they are concerned about the planning (as opposed to Building Regs) point.

princess_bradley 03-12-2009 12:06 AM

Re: Buying a house with no Planning Permission or Building regs for extension

I'm currently undergoing a problem with Building regs as well. It concerns a large 2-storey extension built around 1986. Planning permission was granted and building regulations applied for but no checks were actually carried out i.e. no certificate was ever issued. I've applied to get the certificate of regularisation but it is proving costly to meet all the criteria identified and looks like the sale may fall through.

My main concern is that I only found this out from speaking to friends also going through the house buying process. My solicitor received the HIP 3 months ago which, I now realise, showed that an extension had been built but that no building regs approvals were present.

Should the solicitor have informed me months ago that this was a serious issue ( i.e. is she liable for all the delays to my purchase, which now mean I will have to pay stamp duty in January) or is reading and understanding the local authority search section of the HIP entirely my own responsibility? She claims that it is not within her field of expertise to understand and interpret such things...which I find odd given that she is part of a big conveyancing solicitors' branch that also offers HIPs to house vendors!

Many thanks.

--Hannah x

JustinN 03-12-2009 09:58 AM

Re: Buying a house with no Planning Permission or Building regs for extension
As the extension was built so long ago, it is unlikely that the breach of building regulations would have been enforced and, if you were satisfied with the physical aspects of the work the appropriate response would have been to arrange indemnity insurance against the small risk of enforcement action being taken. Unfortunately, by alerting the council to the breach, you have probably lost the option of arranging indemnity insurance

One of the things conveyancing solicitors should do (and must do, to comply with the CML Lenders' Handbook) is to check that all necessary permissions and consents are in place and complied with, arranging indemnity insurance, where appropriate, to cover any problems. For a conveyancing solicitor to say this is not within his or her field of expertise is ... surprising - it is bread and butter work

alpy42 13-12-2009 11:58 PM

Re: Buying a house with no Planning Permission or Building regs for extension
Hi it seems as if we're in the same boat as most of you guys - i.e. sloshing around in a lot of expensive sounding uncertainty!

We're close to exchange on a property that is now half commercial and half residential. The residential half was created from commercial in 1991 and we have copies of the planning approval - however, no building regulation application or insepections are on record. We are now in trouble because our solicitor had arranged an indemnity policy to cover the lack of building regs which was accepted but has now been withdrawn as our intention to convert to full residential use was picked up by the insurers. We have contacted the council by phone to check whether any other records existed in relation to the property under differnet names other than its street number address and to ask what our options are.

Having read the other posts i am now worried that we have allerted the council to unapproved works at the property and have scuppered any chance of getting another insurance company to cover the property. We are buying with cash because of the unusal commercial/residential split but need the building regs because we want to remortgage when we obtain change of use to full residential to pay for the conversion works. we won't have the cash if the council insists on remedial works before this.

But as we intend to obtain bulding regs approval on the final conversion and the original work was done so long ago - are we likely to have difficulties in getting a new indemnity policy or mortgage now?

JustinN 14-12-2009 12:06 PM

Re: Buying a house with no Planning Permission or Building regs for extension
This is probably best for a surveyor to answer. You would need to be able to identify the work that has been done already without Building Regs consent, apply for retrospective consent and open up those works so they can be checked for compliance. This may be possible to cover as part of your proposed work, but it all depends on what has been done and what you propose to do.

Izzy&Oreo 28-09-2010 06:05 PM

Re: Buying a house with no Planning Permission or Building regs for extension
Hi Everyone. We're in a similar position.
We are buying a three storey mid terrace dated 1895 that has a basement.

Everything is ready for the exchange, but the basement (which has the only rear escape due to the house being built on a hill) was originally used for laundry/coal storage etc in Victorian times. It has long since been converted to living accomodation but no building regs approval has been granted. The current vendors have never had an issue structually and are struggling to understand why we are so serious about this when it was not pointed out to them when they bought 6 years ago. They have offered us indemnity the same as you all mentioned above but the advice we have been given is that as it would not cover us in events such as a fire etc, it may not be worth the paper its marked on. We have refused this offer and as such are waiting a reply.

We're now worried that we may have to pull out, or that they will pull out and try again with new sellers in the hope that it is not raised as an issue. Where do we stand with all of this? We do have concerns over the quality of the coversion with respect to knowing that the ventilation is inadequet, although the conversion was done a long time ago. Our concern is purely that if we did continue without buildings regs, and incurred any serious problems, we would not be able to carry out the remedial works that would be required by todays standards.

JustinN 29-09-2010 09:39 AM

Re: Buying a house with no Planning Permission or Building regs for extension
Indemnity insurance will cover you against the (by now remore) risk of enforcement action, either paying for the cost of remedial work or (at the insurer's option) compensating you for the reduction in the value of the property if the basement could not be used as a habitable room

It will not cover the cost of remedial work in the absence of enforcement action - nor if you precipitate enforcement action by (eg) contacting the council. If, therefore, you are not happy that the basement is suitable for your requirements, you should not proceeed unless the seller carries out remedial work at his expense

I agree hat it is likely that the seller would prefer to re-market the property in the hope that another buyer will not pick up on the point, but there is no point in you buying a property that does not suit you

Izzy&Oreo 29-09-2010 01:59 PM

Re: Buying a house with no Planning Permission or Building regs for extension
Thanks for that, it certainly makes things a little clearer. The thing that confuses both us as purchasers and the vendors is that (we don't know how the rooms were used previously), the vendors have used two of the basement rooms as a study and a master bedroom, whilst keeping the other two rooms for storage.We believe they haven't had any issues until now. The rooms are wired, plumbed, heated, decorated, along with having the back door and a window, and a wc cloakroom, it's not a typical 'cellar'. It suits us perfectly as we inted to use this bank of rooms as a studio. We are still awaiting a reply from the vendors in response to our letter stating comments made by professional services ie surveyor and damp specialists, hopefully this will help them decide to apply for retrospective building regulations approval. Thanks again.

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