Finding the perfect property to buy takes time. It may only be when your offer is accepted and the conveyancing process as a buyer has started that you find out that it has been renovated or changed without complying with the Building Regulations.
But that might not be a deal breaker, provided that you are aware of your options.
What sorts of work are regulated by law?
The applicable law is the Building Regulations 2010, which covers the construction, extension and alteration of properties including projects such as:
- replacing a fuse box and/or wiring
- changing installed electrical appliances near a water supply (such as an electric shower)
- installing a bathroom or kitchen where the plumbing is altered
- replacing windows and doors
- installing a new heating system, or adding radiators
- applying pitch to a flat roof (or recovering it)
- putting in cavity wall insulation
- construction of a building, or an extension
If you don’t know whether you need approval for the works, then you can check with a building control body.
Work that doesn’t require approval tends to be where the nature is one of repairs, or where a replacement fits without needing to change wiring or plumbing.
The Regulations are intended to protect the safety and welfare of the people who live at the property. They aim to make sure that the property meets standards for:
- electrical safety (as proved by electrical installation certificates)
- fire safety
- adequate ventilation
- energy efficiency
- sound proofing
- damp proofing
- drainage and waste disposal
What if the work has not been certified?
If the property has been changed without the work having been approved and then certified, then the local council may ask the current owner to put the property back to its previous condition (in other words, to undo the work). This is known as an enforcement action, for which the property owner is liable to pay for the remedial works.
If the property is sold, then the new owner inherits the responsibility to put right the problem. As such, a property that has had works that have not been certified may be less desirable than if it had, and may be worth less. In other words, not following the building regs can reduce the value of your home.
The buyer’s conveyancer should ask for copies of the documents relating to work done on the property, including planning permission and the Building Regulations Compliance Certificates.
Why might an owner carry out works without approval
An owner may not be aware of the extent of the building regs, and therefore may have carried out work without realising that it required approval.
Or the owner may have avoided obtaining approval in order to keep costs down.
Or the owner may have known that the work would not be granted permission to be done, and so it was never sought.
Options for buyers
There are three options if you are thinking of buying a property that hasn’t had permission for alteration.
The first is not to buy. If the extent of the alterations is large (for example, significant structural change to the interior of the property) then you may not want to take on the work involved, even if you manage the cost of the risk.
The second is to obtain Retrospective Building Regulation Consent.
The third is to take out insurance.
The seller can ask the local authority for consent to be given retrospectively.
An inspector visits the property, assesses the work and decides whether it meets the Regulations. If it does, the local authority issues a Regularisation Certificate.
However, if the inspector cannot carry out a thorough check, for example, where access to the part of the property where the work has been done Is difficult, retrospective consent is unlikely to be given. However, the Building Control department may confirm that no action will be taken in the future.
Without a certificate, a buyer may not feel confident that the alterations are safe.
The other consideration is that by telling the local authority about the work, the seller risks that if the work doesn’t meet the standards then at best he or she will be required to take out indemnity insurance, and possibly be required to carry out remedial works.
The most common solution is that the seller buys building regulation indemnity insurance that pays out for the cost of the remedial work if the buyer has enforcement action taken against him or her.
The cost of such policies is reasonably low, making insurance a popular option.
The insurance covers making good the work, not for defects caused as a result of the work or other costs (such as staying elsewhere while the work is done).
Having insurance also does not change the reality that the safety of the building may be compromised. If your insurance company finds out that no completion certificate has been issued (for example, the previous owner has asked for retrospective consent that was not given), it is likely that your home insurance will be invalidated.
Indemnity insurance generally only covers changes that have been made more than a year before.
In the end
Be cautious, but don’t rule out buying.
You may be able to ask for a reduction in the price of the property, as well as asking for the seller to take out insurance.
If you can have a builder look at the work, they may be able to give you an idea as to whether it may pass an inspection and be given a Regularisation Certificate.
While it is preferable to find a property that doesn’t have issues, these issues can often be managed.