Hannah Carey, head of the conveyancing team at Midland law firm Wright Hassall, stresses how important it is to be aware of building regulations when buying or selling a property.
“Specialist knowledge of building regulations and their enforcement is an essential part of transferring a home.
“Conveyancers have a professional duty to ensure that necessary building regulations have been obtained.
“As a general rule of thumb, anyone carrying out works to their house that will change the structure – including changing the electrics, plumbing, cavity wall insulation and anything likely to impact on the drainage system – is likely to need building regulations approval. Failure to obtain approval, particularly for relatively minor changes such as the installation of a shower or plumbing for a new kitchen sink, is fairly common.
“Under Section 36 of the Building Act 1984, the local authority can issue a notice which will require the property owner to put right the work if it does not comply with building regulations. They can also insist that the property is put back into its original state. This notice must be served within 12 months of the original work being completed but the local authority can obtain an injunction to force the owner to comply with the notice whether or not that owner carried out the work.
“If you are concerned that building regulations should have applied but approval was never sought, you could consider taking out indemnity insurance.
“This is relatively inexpensive, compared with having to remedy any breach, and the premium reflects the extent of the likely risk –The premium is based on the value of the property and one premium can cover multiple breaches“However, there are certain stipulations, such as the works must have been completed at least 12 months prior to the insurance being taken out and there must not have been any contact with the local authority in respect of the works.
“Once the insurance is taken out, the policy holder must not contact the local authority or inform any neighbours of the existence of the policy. Also, if a property is being sold and the purchaser is intending to undertake any building works, an indemnity insurance policy would not apply.
“It is possible to apply for retrospective approval although this will usually involve investigative work by a building inspector – the larger the work, the more intrusive his investigations will be - such as drilling to inspect foundations or knocking off plaster to inspect walls. It is also likely to be more expensive as the Local Authority can insist that additional works are undertaken to bring the works up to current building regulation standards – even if the works were carried out many years ago!”
“If you are in any doubt, then you should consult a specialist solicitor to advise you how to deal with the problem.”