What to do if buying a home without building regulations
Thinking of buying a property which has been renovated or altered without building regulations? Here's what do you need to know before making an offer.
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Why do building regulations matter?
Building regulations (often referred to as ‘building regs.') are in place to cover a number of different areas, including:
- Structural, electrical and fire safety
- Ventilation and hygiene
- Damp proofing
- Drainage and waste disposal
- Protection from falling, collision and impact
- Conservation of power and fuel.
The regulations are designed to protect the safety and welfare of those in and around the building.
If the property you are planning to buy has been altered without building regulations approval, there is a risk that the building may not meet the required standard of safety and energy efficiency.
Why might someone alter the property without permission?
It is possible the owner was unaware of the need to obtain building regulations approval. The owner may have been trying to cut costs by using an unregistered tradesperson or by doing the work themselves.
It could even be that the owner suspected permission would not be granted but completed the work anyway.
What about home improvements?
In addition to construction work, building regulations cover certain home improvements.
For example, new heating systems, electrical works and new windows may require a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate.
The building inspector assigned by the local authority who will check that the work is compliant and up to the required standard. If the work is deemed to be compliant, a certificate will be issued.
Your conveyancing solicitor will request copies of all documents relating to the property and any works carried out, including evidence of planning permission and building regulations certificates.
Which building works require approval and which do not?
The following are examples of works that would be likely to require building regulations approval:
- The erection or extension of a building
- Replacing fuse boxes and connected electrics
- Plumbing in a new bathroom
- Changing electrics near a bath or shower
- Replacing doors and windows
- Putting in cavity wall insulation
- Putting in extra radiators.
The following are unlikely to require building regulations approval:
- Routine repairs and maintenance (excluding fuse boxes, oil tanks and glazing units)
- Installing a new sink, toilet or bath that fits in the same way as the old one
- New lighting and power points (excluding those around a bath or shower).
What happens if works have been carried out without approval?
If you purchase a property without building regulations consent then you will inherit the problem and risk local authority enforcement action in the future. This could mean you having to pay for remedial works or even reverting the property to its original state.
You would also shoulder any consequent 'diminution of value' (reduction) in the property. You may even find that the property is difficult to sell.
If you are taking out a mortgage on the property, your conveyancing solicitor will need to tell your mortgage lender about any lack of building regulations approval. Your mortgage lender may then require further protection from the risks associated with the potential reduction of value in the property.
What is the solution?
There are two possible options for you if you decide to go ahead with the purchase of a property, despite work having been carried out on it without the correct permission.
1. Retrospective building regulation consent from the local authority
As a buyer, you could ask the seller to apply for retrospective consent. To obtain this consent, an inspector will need to visit the property and assess the work carried out before deciding whether or not it meets regulations. If it does, they will issue a 'Regularisation Certificate'.
Possible problems with retrospective consent:
- The inspector may not be able to carry out a thorough check, meaning you will not be given full approval but only confirmation from the Building Control Department that action will not be taken against you.
- If the inspection is limited, you may feel unsure as to the safety of the alterations.
- The seller may have reservations about applying for retrospective consent, as telling the local authority about their lack of building regulations approval could result in them having to rectify or undo works if they do not meet standards.
- By alerting the council, the seller would not be able to take out an indemnity insurance policy (see below).
2. Building regulation indemnity insurance
A more common solution is for the conveyancing solicitor to request that the seller obtains an indemnity insurance policy. This policy will cover your costs and losses should the local authority take enforcement action against you as the new owner.
It would be reasonable to expect the seller to pay for the policy and such policies are usually inexpensive.
Possible problems with indemnity insurance:
- Having insurance does not change the fact that the safety of the building may be in question. You are advised to carry out a suitable survey to confirm this.
- The insurance will cover you for enforcement action costs, but not for general costs or losses resulting from any defects in the property.
- If the previous owner had permission refused by the local authority to carry out the works to the property, the insurance will be invalid. Make sure your solicitor confirms this with you.
- The adjustments made to the property may only be covered by the indemnity insurance if they are over a year old.
- If the local council are informed that you do not have a completion certificate for the works, the policy will be invalid.
Think carefully before you proceed
Before you buy a property without building regulations approval:
- Discuss the issue with your conveyancing solicitor; they can advise you on possible options, and assess any gaps in paperwork from the vendor.
- Talk in detail to your surveyor about the condition of the building, and where practical ask them to walk you around the property highlighting possible issues.
- Look carefully into the options available to you.
- Weigh up how much you want the property against the risk of the purchase.
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