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Vendors removed chimney breast without permission. What should we do?

(27 Posts)
matildawormwood Thu 11-Apr-13 15:30:41

We're in the process of buying a house. Just found out that the vendors removed the chimney breast from the upstairs bedroom a year ago but left it intact downstairs and left chimney stack intact in the loft. It sort of tapers diagonally into the wall from about a foot below ceiling height in the bedroom. We just heard that they didn't get building regs approval to do this and the surveyor wasn't able to ascertain how the chimney stack is being supported as it's all been plastered over. What should I do now? The solicitor has suggested getting them to pay for indemnity insurance but this only covers us in the event of the council enforcing changes. It doesn't cover us if the ceiling falls down or we need to do remedial work. I want reassurance that the remaining chimney stack is being adequately supported and I don't want to encounter problems when we sell on the house in future. Has anyone been in this situation? What should I be asking for?

TripleRock Thu 11-Apr-13 15:31:46

Structural engineers report?

EasterHoliday Thu 11-Apr-13 15:33:06

get a good structural engineer in there and work out what the risk is and what work needs to be done to remove / minimise it. Then you work out if vendor has to do the work at their cost or you reduce price for the cost of the work + an uplift for the hassle factor. They must also pay for your indemnity insurance.

M25Meltdown Thu 11-Apr-13 15:34:00

I would pull out of the purchase, God only knows what else Mr Bodgitandscarper has done to the house.

matildawormwood Thu 11-Apr-13 15:58:17

Thanks so much for these replies. I'm assuming we'd have to pay for the structural engineer's report rather than the sellers (even though it's their fault for not following the correct procedures)? They had the work done within the last year so I'm wondering if it's worth getting the name of their builders and a written explanation of how the stack is supported or do you think that would be worthless?

3rdnparty Thu 11-Apr-13 16:01:45

I think your right you would have to pay for the engineers report, although you could ask if they had one done when they had the work done...I maybe a cynic but would assume written explanation from builder not worth the paper it's written on....seriously unless its dream home am with M25 and you dont know what else lies under the plaster.........so would pull out

architectming Thu 11-Apr-13 16:12:11

Why didn't you carry out a full Structural Survey instead of the standard Valuation report. It will report all defects of the house and you will have a better idea on what else have been done to the house.

It will cost a bit more, but at least you will get a full picture on what work is required for the house. Apart from the Chimney breast, have they done anything else to the house? Have they got a Completion Certificate from the council for all other works?

If they have done a major renovation without building regs, I will be very careful when considering buying the house.

EasterHoliday Thu 11-Apr-13 16:12:34

I'd start by suggesting that regardless of whether YOU proceed with the purchase, they're going to need a report so they should commission one from a mutually selected independent engineer. Chances are they'll expect you to pay however you'd be bonkers and possibly uninsurable if you purchased without going down that road thoroughly

matildawormwood Thu 11-Apr-13 16:20:43

Gah! Really don't want to pull out as we've been looking for ages and this is the best that's come up in our price range but I take your point about getting some kind of structural survey. Presumably they will have to remove plaster etc to see what's underneath...who is then liable for the cost of making good any damage done during the survey?

matildawormwood Thu 11-Apr-13 16:22:41

Forgot to say, my solicitor mentioned that one option is to ask the vendors to apply for retrospective permission ...has anyone done this? Would it cause a massive delay and is it costly?

nipersvest Thu 11-Apr-13 16:23:17

i would suggest, via your solicitor, that the vendor pays for a structural engineer to validate the alterations, they'll need something if not for you, then for any other potential buyers as this issue is going to crop up for them whoever they sell to.

Alwayscheerful Thu 11-Apr-13 16:29:26

Get the agents on side, they will realise the sellers may have to obtain a structual engineers report for any new buyers, if you pull out the agents would probably ask the buyers to pay for one.

Most agents would initially suggest a 50 50 split on the cost of the report and as a buyer i would expect the sellers to reduce the house in line with the estimate to put the work right.

If you look on the builders merchants websites they sell steel hangers to support the relevant brickwork, it might be an inexpensive thing to put right.

jennywren45 Thu 11-Apr-13 16:37:44

No need to pull out what an hysterical response!

Get a report, get insurance, get it supported if necessary, buy house, enjoy your new home.

It's really not a biggie.

And full structural surveys most certainly do not show up everything!

SwedishEdith Thu 11-Apr-13 16:45:26

Don't pull out; it's fixable. Our vendors knock £2K off at the last minute for a similar issue.

TripleRock Thu 11-Apr-13 17:03:19

Actually, due to this being within the last year it's likely your solicitor will be unable to secure indemnity insurance. So you may have no option but to approach the council for retrospective approval, especially if you are buying with a mortgage.

Retrospective approval is the only way to sort this properly, but may not be straightforward as they will need to expose some of the plaster works to see what support is underneath.

The vendors have a major problem due to the fact the works are so recent. They won't be able to just pay for insurance and wash their hands, not to any buyer until after the 12 month mark has passed.

This is their headache to sort out. If it were me I would ask them to deal with getting retrospective consent, seeing as you are within the enforcement period.

specialsubject Thu 11-Apr-13 17:27:19

relieved to hear that you have not exchanged. There's no reason for the vendors to pay for anything except if they want to encourage you to buy. So they may be open to getting approval.

I would also worry about what else they have done.

not a showstopper but a salutary warning!

matildawormwood Thu 11-Apr-13 17:39:58

Thank you, some really useful suggestions here. I think I'm making the mistake of thinking this is MY problem when it's actually THEIRS to sort out. So as a next step, do we think it would be reasonable to ask them to either pay for the cost of the structural survey or to apply for retrospective permission ( I suspect the second would work out much cheaper for them but would possibly lead to delays which I know they don't want as it might mean they lose the property they are buying)?

Bartlebee Thu 11-Apr-13 17:48:22

You're right - it's their problem, not yours. And if you pulled out, they'd have the same problem with next buyer.

I would ask them to make a regularisation application to building control. They will need to submit a design for the support they have used, either a steel or gallows brackets.

It shouldn't take long or cost them that much money, unless they have botched it.

TripleRock Thu 11-Apr-13 17:52:52

The solution has to work for your lender too though, assuming you are having a mortgage.

Structural report on its own may not be enough if you can't get an indemnity policy as well. Retro may be only course of action lender will accept, check with your lawyer.

But this is their house, their fuckup, their problem to sort. More so if they're buying as well as it puts their own plans potentially off course.

metimenowplease Thu 11-Apr-13 18:11:18

I've been in exactly this position, as a seller. I bought a house, and only when selling it 4 years later, did it come to light through the buyer's survey. Owners prior to me had removed chimney breasts and left the chimney unsupported. I didn't get a survey done when I bought (I know, I know...). I had to get the house propped up with acro things the same day, it could have collapsed at any time! Bottom line is, it's the seller's responsibility. They won't be able to sell the house in this condition, and I'm sure they will pay for any remedial work, and be grateful to you if you wait for that and don't pull out. Getting retrospective permission can only be done after structural engineer's report and proper drawings and calculations etc, so I'd insist on that.

lalalonglegs Thu 11-Apr-13 18:12:19

I'd work on the assumption it wasn't possibly supported (and to work out if it is or isn't, your sellers would probably have to remove some of the plaster to show what support is/n't there), so find out how much it will cost to do the job properly and readjust your offer appropriately.

Building regs will only issue a certificate if they get a structural engineers calculations and a structural engineer won't sign off the work unless s/he can see what has been done so, again, unless the sellers are willing to knock off a lot of plaster, they're not going to be willing to do that.

lalalonglegs Thu 11-Apr-13 18:13:22

I've just thought - is the house attached on that side? If so, they would/should have got a party wall award - perhaps that would have some useful information?

matildawormwood Thu 11-Apr-13 18:55:37

That's interesting triple about not being able to get indemnity insurance if the work was carried out within the last 12 months. My solicitor doesn't seem to be aware of that hmm.

Lala yes the chimney breast is on the side of the house that is attached so I'll ask about a party wall award.

Hmmm, starting to get a sinking feeling about all this. And do you know what the most annoying thing of all is? I actually would prefer it if they had left the chimney breast intact as it would mean I could have a proper fire. I'm even thinking I should look into the cost of getting it rebuilt (and possibly reducing my offer slightly) as that might potentially solve two problems in one go...

metimenowplease Thu 11-Apr-13 19:06:37

Matilda, try not to get sinking feeling, it's all horribly stressful, but easy enough to fix, though expensive. I would honestly advise being quite bullish about getting the seller to sort it out, it's structural after all, not like finding a little patch of damp etc. I bet they'll do it, and if not, you can always offer to meet them partway at that point if you still really want the house.

lalalonglegs Thu 11-Apr-13 19:12:20

I agree, it's not that big a deal, especially if you hope to reinstate the chimney. Just work on getting some money knocked off and sort it out when you move in. If it's not supported but there's no visible lean in the chimney stack, it's likely to be ok for a little while longer. I'd risk it.

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