Questions to ask - viewing flat with "no planning permission" loft conversion

(48 Posts)
ThinkIveBeenHacked Sun 20-Jul-14 15:30:07

What do I need to know? What can I expect the vendor / estate agent to tell me?

I have seen a flat I adore and it has a "playroom" and master bathroom in the attic and specifies no planning permission for the conversion.

When I go to view it, what do I need to know? Assuming planning permission and building regs are different things. Is it the building regs that will show that the work is up to standard?

Is it suitable for me to ask why they didnt seek planning permission?

Timeforabiscuit Sun 20-Jul-14 15:36:03

OK, in our area we have 2 up 2 down terraces, where some have converted their loft into a "loft room" meaning they have a light, a velux window, a boarded floor and very steep steps.

This means its a hobby room or used for storage and NOT suitable as a bedroom. This is due to lack of insulation, ceiling height and fire regs calling for a minimum space for a safe stairwell.

If you are looking for an extra bedroom, be incredibly cautious - if its a nice addition then it should be within permitted development regulations which you can check with your local council planning department.

I suspect if they don't have pp they prob don't have building regs either (although on reflection it may be they just mean building regs as with the exception of windows I'm not sure you'd need pp for a loft conversion)
I would want to know whether they would get pp/building regs before sale and if not why not. I would want to know if they have any guarantees for the work (eg electrical, structural). I'd want to know if they worked to building regs guidelines but just didn't get it signed off. I would want to know when it was converted (if fairly recently I would be suspicious that they hadn't used a reputable builder who would insist on building regs and would manage this as part of the work). I'd want to know what the agent has knocked off the valuation (strictly speaking it shouldn't be classed as a room and should be priced as if it didn't exist. And you could argue it should be discounted further as you may have to spend an unknown amount of money undoing or redoing work which could run into the thousands).

ThinkIveBeenHacked Sun 20-Jul-14 15:40:36

Its a terraced house which many many moons ago was split into an upper flat and a lower flat. The upper flat has recently extended into the loft space to add three rooms. The photos of the flat appear to have the upstairs "bedroom" as a playroom and then they have crammed a toddler bed and a cot into the box room on the first floor (an official bedroom). od place a bet on them movinf the toddlrler bed for photos only and that theyve actually used the playroom as a bedroom.

ThinkIveBeenHacked Sun 20-Jul-14 15:41:53
Timeforabiscuit Sun 20-Jul-14 15:42:59

The building regs will show if its built to a safe standard, but it depends what they say the extra room off the bathroom is, if its meant to act as a nice dressing room its not safe for a permanent bed to go in there.

You could try and see if your council holds this information online if you have the address, that would give you a starting point.

Pooka Sun 20-Jul-14 15:48:00

It looks lovely. But...

The price should reflect the fact that planning permission/building regs not achieved, and may not be.

Timeforabiscuit Sun 20-Jul-14 15:54:49

Agree with pooka, that bathroom is a actually a liability for the buyer - you do not know who did it, to what standard and what competence. IMO it being there should lower the price further as you may have to face the cost of ripping it all out if its unsafe.

I'd find out whether the current occupiers have done the work, if they have its a red flag as they wouldn't have had to have mortgage approval/survey done on the property.

Its worth keeping in mind that you'll be facing these problems when you come to sell, so worth getting to the bottom of it.

ThinkIveBeenHacked Sun 20-Jul-14 16:21:14

Yes - at the moment I suppose it is a two bed with no suitable bathroom. An attic bathroom with no building regs would scare me every time I filled the bath. What bothers me is the bit where the dining room is was a separate room - many people put the bathroom in there which would be a lot less scary and then there could have been two bedrooms in the attic.

If I think it is unmortgageable I will obviously have to walk away.

WookieCookiee Sun 20-Jul-14 16:54:45

It may all be fine but there is a substantial amount if work been done including possibly the addition if a staircase, windows n roof, re-routing plumbing and soil pipe etc so you need to find out if building regs signed the work off and also whether p permission for this kind if extension would usually be required by your local authority. If no regs issued, andgrinr pp is required the vendor should apply for retrospective permission/regulations; this can be PITA as no guarantee it will be given and it can take a while. However it will need to done if they want to sell it as solicitors will require this info especially if the property requires a mortgage. Which it won't get if it doesnt meet building regs.

Isitmylibrarybook Sun 20-Jul-14 18:02:24

How do you know if buildings regs approval was needed, does anyone know? For ecample - does a velux window always need it, or does it depend on the size and number of veluxes? Estate agents dont always know the difference between planning permission and buildings regs - they'll tell you a loft didn't need pp as not being used as a bedroom but then look bemused if you ask about building regs?

You can't necessarily look on the council website as the rules may have changed sknce the work was done.

Spickle Sun 20-Jul-14 18:05:59

This may seem a stupid question, but presumably this is a leasehold property and that there is a freeholder/landlord? Your solicitor will look at the title deeds, but there may be a slight possibility that the owner of the flat does not own the loft space! In which case all the alterations/improvements to the loft which the owner has done to increase the saleability (and presumably value), are irrelevant if the loft space is not part of the title for this flat. While this may seem unlikely it has recently happened to a client of the firm I work for. The flat they were buying was advertised as having a hobby room (and valued accordingly), only to find out that the owners didn't own the loft - the freeholder did - and the conversion was done without the freeholders knowledge or permission. So now the seller of the flat has to sell without the hobby room but refuses to acknowledge that his flat's value is considerably lower.

ThinkIveBeenHacked Sun 20-Jul-14 18:12:04

Oh that is interesting. Will the EA know what is included in the deeds or would we only know that if we proceed and have a sokicitor check it out?

Moreisnnogedag Sun 20-Jul-14 18:12:19

I'd be very interested as to why no pp and wouldn't touch it with a barge pole if no building regs. No tell a lie, I would if it was markedly below market value, so much so that you would have enough to either make it to standard or install bathroom downstairs.

Most councils now have a phone line where you can chat to planning officers.

Pooka Sun 20-Jul-14 18:12:42

Building regulations approval would definitely be required, not least to assess means of escape in a fire, quality of insulation, safety of the staircase, fire proof doors etc.

Flats don't benefit from permitted development rights and if there have been alterations to the roof to provide additional ventilation or daylight, or Space in the case of a dormer extension, planning permission would have been required.

A way round this (planning) is to board out the loft and fit it out but not to describe it as additional accommodation and to suggest that it is not habitually used. This doesn't apply or work if there have been roof alterations, and also means that the flat cannot be described as including additional bedroom/bathroom since on paper, it doesn't - if you see what I mean. That's why a price should reflect that issue.

The leasehold/freehold point is a good one.

It may be that the vendor can apply for an indemnity policy to cover any potential enforcement action. It would be interesting to know when the works occurred,because they may be out of enforcement period for planning purposes. But that wouldn't address potentially the building regulations issues involved with an unauthorised conversion that may be substandard.

samsam123 Sun 20-Jul-14 18:14:53

ring up the Planning Department to get their view

ThinkIveBeenHacked Sun 20-Jul-14 18:18:28

So in the simplest terms, this is a two bed with no bathroom. That would make it worth half the price its up for.

CQ Sun 20-Jul-14 18:18:49

We bought a house where the loft space over the garage had been converted to a room off the master bedroom, didn't require PP for the room itself as it came within permitted development. However, they had also put in a velux window, and this did require building regs which the vendor didn't have. Our solicitor basically insisted building regs were approved and signed off at the vendors expense before we exchanged.

It's worth phoning the local planning dept as they all have different building regs standards.

Pooka Sun 20-Jul-14 18:18:54

When we had our loft conversion, we needed steels to support the weight of the additional accommodation (included a bathroom and bedroom). Escape velux on the front elevation. Fire door at the top of the stairs (self closing). All other doors were assessed by the inspector to make sure would not burn within a certain time, and were fitted with self closers. Mains fire alarm. Heaps of insulation. Ventilation soffits. Landing at top of stairs to loft had to be a certain depth, with adequate head height above.

All signed off.

We didn't need planning permission as is a house and was within the then volume restrictions on permitted development (by about 20 cubic centimetres) wink

Pooka Sun 20-Jul-14 18:24:14

That will be why the estate agent is describing it as a 2bed.

It may be that you could take an experienced builder with you on a viewing to assess potential for compliance. The vendor might drop the price to reflect the lack of official status for the additional accommodation. But even so, you could be left with an albatross round your neck of a conversion that actually has an adverse impact on the proper flat - structural implications etc.

Best course of action would be to get the vendor to apply for building regs approval now, him/herself.

noddyholder Sun 20-Jul-14 18:25:44

Flats have no permitted development like houses and always need pp. Houses can do loft conversions with only building regs flats can't. I would get a structural engineers report and then a valuation based on the flat without those rooms. If it is cheap enough to get the work the surveyor has suggested in your budget then go ahead otherwise be v careful

Spickle Sun 20-Jul-14 18:28:46

No, the EA would not know what's on the title deeds. The EA doesn't get involved in any legal work. That's why you have a solicitor act for you. Just remember buyer beware, and if paperwork is missing, it is up to the vendor to pay for indemnity policies to address the problem(s). You might be able to obtain a copy of the title deeds from Land Registry for a small fee. Otherwise, it is the solicitor who will check all paperwork and legalities, so perhaps think about choosing a solicitor who is a conveyancing expert and one that will only charge you if you complete.

Isitmylibrarybook Sun 20-Jul-14 18:32:09

If you have a loft conversion which requires the joists to be reinforced like pooka's, can you get retrospective building regs approval - because they will not be visible (concealed by floor boards and ceiling) so how will the inspector know the work has been done properly?
Just wondering aloud here - i don't know the answer!

I wouldn't buy it, far too risky.

Pooka Sun 20-Jul-14 18:37:53

I don't know isitmylibrarybook!

I assume that a buildings inspector would have a way of knowing, or checking. Or could ask for confirmation or proof of installation I.e. Receipt for purchase (they're bloody expensive!)

Or could come in in hobnail boots and demand that the householder show I.e. Make them remove things that cover them like floorboards.

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