Loft Conversions - Legal Considerations for you and your conveyancing solicitor

A loft conversion can be a substantial alteration to a property which must be fully investigated by the prospective buyer and their Conveyancing Solicitors before a commitment is made to buy a home. Sales are often delayed because a loft conversion (or sometime a garage or cellar conversion) does not have requisite approvals.

What constitutes a loft conversion?

Loft conversions can be a simple conversion of the loft space into a basic room which  does not require major structural work. On the other hand a full loft conversion to a habitable room such as a bedroom with an en-suite bathroom for example, involves far more work. The local authority requirements will be more extensive. Although planning consent is often not needed, structural works will have to comply with building regulation.

Is planning permission or building regulation approval required?

Houses can generally be extended up to a particular volume without planning permission being required.

If the property is a listed building or is situated in a conservation area then separate consent may be required.

Building regulation compliance is required where building works have been undertaken. This is a separate requirement to planning consent. In the case of a loft conversion where the loft area is being converted into a simple storage area with no building work taking place then it is likely local authority consent will not be required.

It is always advisable to check the position with the local council before committing to any work in relation to a loft conversion. Further information can also be obtained from the government's planning portal.

Points which arise on a purchase.

Sellers should state if they have altered or extended a building, although they often fail to mention works carried out by a previous owner. If there is a loft room then buyers should point this out to their Conveyancing Solicitors to ensure that they make the necessary enquiries.

A buyer’s Conveyancing Solicitor must check to make sure all necessary local authority consents have been obtained and a completion certificate has been issued by Building Control. The local search will show details of any planning consents and the buyers' Conveyancing Solicitor will require to see copies of them.

What happens if no consent has been obtained?

It is common to find that a conversion has been carried out which should have been passed by the local council's building control department, but that has not been done. In such cases there is the possibility that the council will take enforcement action at a later date. To protect buyers and their mortgage lenders, Conveyancing Solicitors will often require the seller to pay the premium for an indemnity insurance policy. This will indemnify the buyer against any enforcement action taken by the local authority.

The alternative would be for the seller to ask the council to carry out an inspection and if all is well, issue a completion certificate. However that can take time, and the surveyor may not be able to pass the work.

Indemnity insurance may also be a solution if no planning consent exists but might have been required. Combined policies covering lack of planning and building regulation approvals are available.

These indemnity policies are commonly used  in conveyancing transactions and provides a quick and effective solution to potential legal defects. The premiums are usually quite modest.

Building surveys required by purchasers

Policies do not provide cover against defective work. If an extension has been carried out which has not been inspected, the buyer should make sure that he or she has a proper building survey carried out which will reveal whether the works have been carried out efficiently and to a high standard. The buyer does not want to be in a position where he or she has committed to a purchase only to find out that structural alterations rapidly begin to show poor workmanship.

Fridaysmove can arrange building surveys at modest cost.

Are there other legal issues with loft conversions?

Many houses are subject to restrictive covenants contained in old deeds. Although it is unlikely that these will prohibit the conversion of a loft to a room, deeds may contain provisions requiring consent to be obtained for any external extensions to a property from the original builder. If a loft conversion has involved an alteration to the roof then such a provision could be applicable. However it is very unlikely that failure to obtain such consent will ever cause a problem.   If Conveyancing Solicitors think there is a potential risk then again indemnity insurance will usually provide a quick answer.

Loft conversions to flats

Sometimes owners of flats carry out loft conversions, when they own the top floor flat in a building. (or convert cellars when they own a ground floor flat. ) This can raise many problems for Conveyancing Solicitors when they try to sell.

Flats are generally owned under leases, which will contain restrictions on the leaseholder carrying out any alterations without the freeholder's consent.

Many leases specifically exclude lofts and cellars from the premises included in the lease, while others may not be clear on the point.

In all such cases it will necessary to contact the freeholder, and it may be necessary to arrange for a supplementary lease of the loft space to be completed. A formal licence for alterations may be needed, with the additional costs involved including freeholders' surveyors and solicitors fees.

Of course if the owner of the flat also owns a share of the freehold of the building then that may not be such a problem, but consent is not automatic as the other co-owners would also need to confirm consent.

Conveyancing Solicitors acting for buyers will do their best to ensure that clients interest are fully protected. This may sometimes mean that the purchase is delayed while legal difficulties are sorted out, but remember that your Conveyancing Solicitor does not want you to buy a home and then find that the council is taking enforcement action or an irate landlord tells you to remove an unauthorised alteration.

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