Warning about buying a property with 2 kitchens

(28 Posts)
marykat2004 Fri 07-Feb-14 12:40:34

Hello, this is a bit long but i want to share this in case anyone else finds themselves in the same situation. I was not aware of this, nor, it seems were my solicitor, estate agents, seller, building regulations man, etc. This is what I have just sent to the press. I hope it can get coverage as people need to know.

When a house is not a house

Do people know that you can have a house that is one house on the deed, can not be sold or rented out as separate units, but is taxable as separate units?

With many people moving out of London, attracted by bigger, cheaper properties, and with more people working from home, this fact needs to be made public. It needs to be known to all estate agents, builders, building inspectors, conveyancing solicitors, surveyors and most of all the public.

My husband and I bought a house that had an extra kitchen on the top floor. The main kitchen of the 3 story, 4-bedroom terraced house was actually quite small. When the previous owner?s 95-year-old mother had a stroke and many carers were coming into the house, the previous owner installed for herself a kitchen on the top floor.

When we viewed the house we saw potential for work space, as I wanted to work from home myself. We also saw the potential long term benefits for our daughter, who is 9 now. With increasing property prices, it is unlikely she will be able to afford to move out for quite some time, and might like to have some space for herself when she is older. We also saw the potential that if we had health problems, we had the option of staying on the ground floor when recovering from surgery for example (I have had foot surgery and will likely need it again in the future).

The house was sold as a single dwelling. On the deed it is a single dwelling. Planning permission would be required to turn it into flats. Walls would need to be built, with locking doors to separate areas of the house.

When we had the survey done, the surveyor commented that 2 kitchens would be problematic if we were applying for a mortgage. But since we were cash buyers that was not an issue. He said nothing about double council tax.

We moved in in August 2013. We began paying council tax on one house, as the previous had done. We had a letter from the Valuation Office asking about work done by the previous owner. I saw no problem in reporting the work done, but mentioned that at present we were not using the second kitchen. We had decided it was more practical to have the work space on the top floor.

During the sale of the house the previous owner had had to get a building regulation certificate for the arch that was built when she knocked through the bedrooms on the top floor. The second kitchen is mentioned on the building regulation certificate. This is what generated the alert to the valuation office.

Houses with 2 kitchens are not uncommon. If you look on rightmore.co.uk you can find them quite easily. Many, like ours are not separated. They have no separate entrances, no separate utilities, and no locks on any doors. They are being sold as a single dwellings as ours was. I phoned up an estate agent to one of the houses currently on the market and asked if they were aware that these houses, upon sale, would generate two council tax bills. They said they were not aware.

Estate agents take no responsibility for this. Similarly, the conveyancing solicitors also take no responsibility: it states in their terms and conditions that they do not advise on tax, including council tax.

I spoke with the man who issued the building regulation certificate, who was baffled by the situation and said that he never said anything about separate flats, and that the certificate was for the opening of the arch.

After much research I found out that, dating back to 1995, so-called ?granny flats? were taxable as separate properties even though they did not have separate entrances and could not be sold or rented out separately.

As a home buyer, buying my first house, after only having a flat in a block, I had no idea that any of this would happen. The previous owner of our house also received a back council tax bill dating to June 2011, when she got the building regulation certificate. She was told she had to pay £2000 immediately, on a house that she had not lived in in 6 months. She is living on a state pension.

We spoke to numerous solicitors, Citizens Advice Bureaux and, several times, the valuation office and the local council tax office. The local council tax office said they only deal with the bills and the valuation office would have to re-evaluate the house. The local council tax office extended our bill due date for 28 days. However, upon receiving our letters of appeal, the valuation office said it could take up to 4 months to re-evaulate the house. Thus meaning we had to pay these back-dated bills that were generated in error.

My husband suffers from mental illness and hearth failure. We bought this house because we thought it was disability-friendly. We bought this house so I could work from home, and look after my husband (I am his carer) and our daughter. Since this stress with the council tax I have been unable to work. I only started my business in October 2013. This is such a difficult time to be starting a business, and then having to deal with this council tax. We can not afford to pay 2 council tax bills.

I want to make the property buying public aware that if someone is attracted to a house with 2 kitchens that they will have to pay double council tax even if the current owner is not paying double. Basically, when someone puts in a kitchen, they don't need planning permission. But when they sell the house, it becomes two flats in the eyes of the Council Tax people, no matter what the deed says. People need to know this.

The previous owner had no idea about ?granny flats? or taxes on ?granny flats? and never even considered any part of her house a ?granny flat?. She merely adapted a space on the top floor for herself, to give her mother and her mother's carers some space.

This has caused extreme stress to all involved: a pensioner with no family who has a new house to look after; a mentally and physically disabled man and his carer, and a child who is being affected by the stress that her parents are under.

Had we known about this ?law? where a house is house on the deed but not in the eyes of the Council tax, we would have chosen another house.

Estate agents need to tell people about this. Conveyancing solicitors need to know this. And builders who put in kitchens without needing planning permission also need to be aware of this.

7 Feb 2014

Everysilverlining Fri 07-Feb-14 12:45:48

We bought a house with two kitchens. By the time they revalued it it only had one kitchen as we weren't using the second as a kitchen and had taken out the other kitchen. The wiring is still there but the other kitchen is now a utility room. So we had no problem with valuation. Take the second kitchen out then do the reevaluation. It's not that hard nor that complicated

marykat2004 Fri 07-Feb-14 12:47:27

The inspector is coming Monday. Fridge is gone. Cooker is being removed. It is only electric, not gas. The wiring is being capped and sealed.

However, we wish someone had told us about this before we bought the house.

marykat2004 Fri 07-Feb-14 12:48:09

I use the sink for work, and DD also uses the area for arts and crafts and science kits. I am hoping they let us keep the sink. Did you do away with the sink in yours?

kerala Fri 07-Feb-14 12:50:58

It's a council matter. Our house had 2 kitchens as was flats so we ripped one out (took us a day) and the plumber sealed up the pipes. Council came and checked ticked a box so only ever paid one council tax charge. Could you just take out the extra kitchen?

marykat2004 Fri 07-Feb-14 12:53:16

We've taken out the fridge and cooker and blocked the electric supply to the cooker. No gas there. Did you have to rip out the cupboards too? And were you aware of this before you bought it?

We chose this house also because it was in good condition and DH do not like DIY. He has health problems and I am trying to work while looking after him and our child. The plan was not to do a load of work on the house.

kerala Fri 07-Feb-14 12:54:19

Do feel for you but admit dont quite understand your high level of upset about it. After we moved we were told we were living on contaminated land our neighbour had to remove all the soil in their garden totally demolishing it at the cost of £35k. This is not something you can insure against. Stuff like this happens when you own property.

How do they define a kitchen as opposed to a utility. It can't be a sink because bathrooms have them as do some utilities. It's can't be a fridge because People have them in their utilities or garages. It can't be cupboards as they're all over houses so I can only see it can be a stove/oven (even then that's weird) and as that's gone.

Thanks for warning is though as I've looked at a couple of houses with two kitchens when we would only use one

What about people with outdoor kitchens ?! Does that qualify as another kitchen! Who would they bill ? Stig o' the dump ?!?

Seems very unfair to me !!! Thank you so much for letting us all know !! I do hope it's all sorted soon for you !!

maggiemight Fri 07-Feb-14 13:03:09

Seems crazy, we had a second kitchen, now removed, as there were lodgers but no one has ever mentioned anything about council tax. We are in Scotland.

It must be a money making idea by the council.

Everysilverlining Fri 07-Feb-14 13:12:04

No we did not rip out the cupboards, nor the sink. We literally just took the cooker out. We still use the sink for handwashing

brass Fri 07-Feb-14 13:13:38

marykat2004 it sounds like you have a lot on your plate, thanks for taking the time to bring this issue to the attention of others who might benefit from your experience.

I do hope the stress abates for all concerned. I know I've been reduced to tears dealing with the council at times so can appreciate how frustrating it is trying to get common sense out of them.

NotCitrus Fri 07-Feb-14 13:26:06

Interesting, as we had the opposite! House had ground floor altered to create a separate granny flat with its own entrance, obviously containing a kitchen. So we insisted on establishing whether the flat was liable for its own council tax.

After lots of poking from our solicitor, the council confirmed if it was being bought as one house and the title deeds had one house, it was one house. Especially as we could always put a door in to reconnect the rooms.

We did get a query after the flat ended up on databases as "29a", but going in my front door and out the side gate proved it was all one, and no concern from the council. Only issue was when a tenant was claiming HB and council refused to believe they had separate kitchen, washing facilities etc with no liability for ctax until I confirmed it - so much for landlords never needing to be told you are claiming!

NotCitrus Fri 07-Feb-14 13:27:35

Interesting, as we had the opposite! House had ground floor altered to create a separate granny flat with its own entrance, obviously containing a kitchen. So we insisted on establishing whether the flat was liable for its own council tax.

After lots of poking from our solicitor, the council confirmed if it was being bought as one house and the title deeds had one house, it was one house. Especially as we could always put a door in to reconnect the rooms.

We did get a query after the flat ended up on databases as "29a", but going in my front door and out the side gate proved it was all one, and no concern from the council. Only issue was when a tenant was claiming HB and council refused to believe they had separate kitchen, washing facilities etc with no liability for ctax until I confirmed it - so much for landlords never needing to be told you are claiming!

NotCitrus Fri 07-Feb-14 13:30:01

Sorry, double post.
OP - what legislation on 1995 enabled them to tax granny flats and how is a granny flat defined? I'd be tempted to tell them your house doesn't have a flat and to go whistle!
I'm not a lawyer, etc.

marykat2004 Fri 07-Feb-14 14:17:06

I only traced court appeals back to 1995. Apparently it goes back further than that. We thought it might have been recent to tax 'granny flats' separately.

marykat2004 Fri 07-Feb-14 14:18:27

I only traced court appeals back to 1995. Apparently it goes back further than that. We thought it might have been recent to tax 'granny flats' separately.

marykat2004 Fri 07-Feb-14 14:27:05

I googled 'granny flat council tax'. And found cases back to 1995. The previous owner did not consider any part of her house a granny flat. Hence none of this came up before the sale.

Plumpcious Fri 07-Feb-14 18:31:59

I posted this on the OP's thread on AIBU and I'm copying it here in case anyone wants to read up on the legal details. (References to my previous post refer to the AIBU thread.)

The Valuation Office Agency have an informative pdf about Council Tax banding in England. On self-contained units it says:

The law requires that each self-contained unit must be separately banded. A self-contained unit is a building or part of a building constructed or adapted to make it capable of forming a separate unit of living accommodation.

It makes no difference whether one or more than one household occupies the units. If a unit is constructed or adapted for use as separate living accommodation, then it will have a separate council tax banding regardless of how it is used.

The fact that a unit shares common services and cannot be sold on its own does not prevent it from being classed as a self-contained unit and having a separate council tax banding.

So I was wrong about one household per dwelling = one Council tax bill. If a single dwelling contains an additional self-contained unit then both are banded for Council Tax, even if the household uses the the whole dwelling as one unit.

However it's not entirely clear what a 'self-contained unit' is, as a lot of the definition is shaped by legal case law. This page of the VAO's manual (which I think applies to both England and Wales) gives more information, including case summaries of relevant legal cases. This page shows some diagrams of examples of what does and doesn't constitute a separate unit.

If anyone can be bothered to read further, here are some extracts:

A ‘self-contained unit’ is defined as:

“a building or part of a building which has been constructed or adapted for use as separate living accommodation”

2.1 The Unit must have been constructed or adapted for use as separate living accommodation. This is purely an objective physical test, and it must disregard intention.

2.4 The unit must be physically capable of use as separate living accommodation

2.5 Provision of standard facilities:

A self-contained unit should usually have facilities for living, sleeping, preparation and cooking of food, and bathing facilities such as a bath/shower, whb and lavatory. However, in exceptional circumstances the lack of a facility does not prevent a unit from being self contained

So I still stand by my argument that a second kitchen alone is not necessarily evidence of a separate living unit - it would have to form part of a unit with other facilities (living/sleeping/bathing) that could be physically self-contained within the building.

For those of you who are concerned about self-contained units for disabled family members I suggest you look at your local council's information about reductions and exemptions from Council Tax for disabled residents. I don't know if these are the same nationwide or if they vary from council to council. Also be aware that if you create a unit within your home that is physically capable of being used as a separate living unit (even if you don't intend to use it that way) if you sell your house there may be an issue for the new owners needing two Council Tax bands, unless either you or they remove some of the facilities so it's no longer a self-contained unit.

PS: I don't have any expert knowledge on this, I've just read the stuff on the VOA's website.

Plumpcious Fri 07-Feb-14 18:41:04

OP: a question for you if you're still here.

Did the valuation office come to the house and inspect it? Or was it just a paper-based valuation without seeing the house?

Also, be careful about the working-from-home issue as you can be liable for business rates on part of your house.

Hope your valuation appeal is successful and you get your money back.

InsertUsernameHere Fri 07-Feb-14 18:56:39

Hope this gets sorted OP. It may differ by valuation board. We purchased a house with two kitchens as it was also on the market as two flats. However the owner had already got it changed from two flats to a single house for council tax as they were living in both as a house. Maybe the valuation board up here (scotland) doesn't have the same rules? We also didn't have a problem with a mortgage. We just remortgaged it the surveyor offered to describe it as a utility if it caused problems. There don't seem to be many any live in nannies / granny flats near us - so maybe our valuation board doesn't worry about these things?? Remember if you get stuck contact your elected representative.

mysteryfairy Fri 07-Feb-14 21:34:52

We're trying to buy a house with 2 kitchens. I'm really nervous now regarding the mortgage. I think I will try and describe the small kitchen as a utility room. In terms of the council tax liability this changes from April 2014 so that you are only liable for 50% of the full amount on the annexe. This was in the Autumn statement last December. I think there is a full exemption if the annexe is occupied by a disabled dependent but not sure how realistic it would be to claim your DH as that.

marykat2004 Sat 08-Feb-14 09:21:31

Re business rates, no part of the house is just for work.

It was a paper valuation. The inspector is coming Monday.

BewitchedBefuzzledBewildered Sun 09-Feb-14 00:13:35

Link to AIBU thread mentioned above?

marykat2004 Mon 10-Feb-14 14:38:29

Sorry i posted twice cos I wanted it to get more attention. AIBU is the busiest part of the board. I know you're not meant to post twice.

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