Changes are being introduced in England aimed at reforming the Planning system there which includes a relaxing of Planning provisions relating to extensions and loft conversions. Property Solicitor Rachel Church considers what you need to look out for if you are purchasing a Property with an existing loft conversion.

It is important to consider both Planning Permission and Building Regulation Consent.

Most loft conversions do not require Planning Permission as they often come within the’ Permitted Development’ provisions, which allow homeowners to improve and extend their homes without applying for Planning Permission, There are exceptions to this however where Planning Permission is required such as where you extend or alter the roof space/height and it exceeds certain limits and conditions. For example, where the roof extension is higher than the highest part
of the existing roof; the space addition is equal to or greater than 50m³ (40m³ for a terraced house), or where the Property is within a Conservation Area or is a listed building. It is therefore important to check whether the works came within Permitted Development where Planning Permission would not have been required.

In relation to Building Regulation Consent, this is generally required to convert a loft or attic into a ‘liveable space’ . The date the loft conversion was carried out may be relevant. This is because Completion Certificates were generally not introduced until the late-1980s and also some council records may not extend this far back. If the building works were more recent, the owner carrying out the works would have been required to obtain Building Regulations approval for the conversion through the Local Authority by obtaining a Building Regulations Certificate of Completion or through a private company as an approved inspector by obtaining a Building Regulations Final Certificate. If these were obtained, you would expect appropriate entries to appear in the Local Authority Search carried out by your conveyancer during the transaction.

The situation is more complicated where a previous owner and not the Seller carried out the loft conversion, they have no information on the works carried out and there are no entries in the Local Authority Search. There are a number of options open for a Buyer. If the works were carried out after October 1985 it is possible to ask the Seller to obtain a ‘Regularisation Certificate ‘from the Local Authority. This is effectively retrospective consent for work already carried out to ascertain if there is anything that is non-compliant with the building works. However, this may be expensive and complex particularly if remedial work is required in order to issue the certificate. The Seller may not agree to obtaining this and it may also substantially delay the transaction.

Another option is to ask the Seller to provide a Building Regulation Indemnity Insurance Policy at their own cost. If Building Regulations approval should have been obtained and was not, the Building Act 1984 provides that a Local Authority can make an application to the High Court for an injunction to require the alteration or removal of work carried out and there is no time limit in relation to this. An indemnity insurance policy should provide cover in the event that such enforcement action or proceedings are taken for not having the necessary Building Regulation consent. It can cover for example, damages, compensation, costs and/or expenses incurred as well as the amount by which the value of the Property is reduced by the effect of any subsequent order, for example, to take down the loft conversion.

An indemnity policy however does not cover the standard of work carried out or the cost of any repairs or remedial works required, which the Buyer would be responsible for. It is vital to obtain advice from a surveyor to ensure that the works have been carried out to an acceptable standard and that the Building is safe and the structure unaffected as well as providing advice on the value and future saleability.
Where a Building Regulation Completion Certificate was not obtained, the loft room should only be used for storage and not as a habitable space. The loft conversion should not be marketed by the estate agents as an additional bedroom. If the Buyer is obtaining mortgage finance, the mortgage valuation should be checked to ensure that the loft conversion was not treated as a bedroom, in which case the mortgage offer may be affected and a further valuation required. It is also advisable to check the position with the insurance company insuring the Property prior to exchange of contracts to inform them of the position.

There are other consideration to look at where the Property is Leasehold, for example, a loft conversion in a top floor flat or maisonette, as this is likely to have required consent from the Freeholder in addition to the above.

It is important to consider all the above factors in deciding whether to proceed with the purchase of a Property with an existing loft conversion and to obtain guidance from a Surveyor as well as a Conveyancer who will be able to advise you in more detail.

If you are thinking of buying, selling or remortgaging, please contact our experienced friendly team of property experts who would be happy to assist and discuss the details of your transaction and your individual requirements with you. We can provide you with a comprehensive, no obligation quotation with no hidden extras.