Planning Permission Tips UK – Illegal Building Works – Is there an Upside?

Many times throughout the year we are called in to assist people who have got into trouble by completing building works without Council permission. This can be either Planning or Building Regulations – often both. Guess when this ‘illegal’ building works is usually exposed – Right at the time when the home owner is under the most pressure & exposure to other abortive fees – you guessed it – WHEN THEY ARE ABOUT TO MOVE HOME!

I am amazed at the blinkered approach most homeowners have to completing building works without the required council consent. They just bury their heads in the sand & think that it will not be exposed – HOW WRONG MOST HOMEOWNERS ARE.

They seem to forget that most purchasers surveyors just love it when they are able to expose any illegal building works that may assist the purchaser in pulling out of the sale (strange I here you say) – you see they get paid for their survey report irrespective of the homes condition & by exposing illegal building works they obtain a ‘get out of jail free card’ – in other words, the purchaser is likely to pull out of the sale & not rely on the contents of the survey and thereby the surveyor reduces their exposure to negligent claims from the purchaser when some other form of defect may be discovered later on.

Not only this, but illegal building works also exposes the homeowner to clever purchasers who then use this aspect to literally blackmail the homeowner into accepting a vastly reduced offer price. If you have already invested in reciprocal professional fees, moving costs and other commitments you suddenly become what the trade calls a ‘motivated purchaser’ and likely to accept a far lower offer due to your personal commitments and desires.

You are then faced with a panic – to resolve the situation by applying for retrospective consents which will have a financial cost and loss of time implication thereby at high risk of losing your current purchaser.

HOWEVER, all that said – we do need to place a little perspective on the situation for some balance. Firstly it is perhaps a bit unfair to call the works ‘illegal’. A better term would be ‘un-approved’ – remember this is not criminal legislation we are dealing with.

Also, there is a time element that affects the seriousness of the breach of control. Generally speaking, if the works have been completed for 4 years or longer then the Planning Department cannot normally insist on a retrospective permission or require the works to be removed. Building Control on the other hand have a shorter period for compliance which is normally two years. After this time (and provided the works are not an obvious risk to health and safety) they can only normally make a note within your property file. They are normally unable to insist that the works are retrospectively approved after this time.

As a guide, if you fall into this category, the longer the un-approved works have been in place, the easier it is for surveyors and purchasers to accept the works ‘as is’ without too much detriment to the properties value. The reason for this is clear – someone has to take a view that the works are not going to be removed or fall apart after a period of time.

Most people are surprised to find that both the Planning Department & the Building Control Department have formal applications to regularise the un-approved building works. The risk for the homeowner is how much more works are required to the property to make it comply. Often building works have to be demolished & reinstalled to the approved standard.

Therefore, any homeowner fully aware that they have completed un-approved building works and soon to move home should now put into action a ‘regularisation plan’ to avoid the ‘eleventh hour’ panic described above. Seeking early professional advice & guidance from a professional Building Designer or surveyor should be your first port of call rather than approaching the council direct.

Our ‘Maximum Build Planning Guide’ explains further the issues involved when installing un-approved building works.