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Building regulations: What agents should know!

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When an issue of building regulation approval comes up on a transaction, a collective shudder goes through everyone involved. Buyers and sellers get nervous, and the agent has to rely on the lawyer to sort it out.  What are building regulations and can anything be done to avoid any issues arising?

What are they?

People confuse building regulations with planning permissions but they are very different.  They cover health and safety issues, such as whether a staircase to a loft conversion is too steep. New buildings, conversions and even small alterations such as the removal of a chimney breast must pass building regulation approval.  However, just because work may need approval, it may NOT need planning permission, as in the case of the chimney breast.

What can go wrong?

The building officer from the local authority is responsible for ensuring any work complies with building regulations.  If they decide it does not, they can force the owner to make it compliant.  For example, if someone has removed a wall between two rooms, and they think it is unsafe, the homeowner could be forced to put the wall back.

Do they expire?

People think that if work was done more than 12 months ago it won’t need approval.  This is NOT the case and the buyer’s lawyer can be liable if approval was not granted.

How to avoid problems

Before sellers get any development work done, it is a good idea to contact the local authority to check if approval is needed, and ask them to visit the property to give advice. Agents should check with the seller that they have received approval for any work that has been carried out, before marketing the property.  If they are unsure, they can check the local authority website.

If there was no approval, the seller’s lawyer will usually take out indemnity insurance to cover the risk of reversing any work in future.   Insurance can only be used if the local authority is not aware of the work. Therefore, neither the seller nor the agent must EVER contact them directly. Once the local authority are aware, insurance will not be an option.

Conclusion

With reduced property transactions leading to an increase in extensions and conversions, building regulations issues are becoming more common.   Therefore, ensuring sellers are aware of what they should and should not do could mean the difference between a successful sale and a fall-through.