Unauthorised works

Unauthorised works refer to works carried out without obtaining the necessary statutory consents, usually planning permission and/or building control approvals. Typically the works will be extensions, loft conversions, the creation of open plan layouts, removal of chimney breasts etc. The works could also involve unlawful changes of use. If the local authority becomes aware of the unauthorised works (often only after concerned neighbours contact them), then depending on the nature of the unauthorised works, the local authority may take enforcement action to remove or otherwise modify the works in question. Where relatively minor unauthorised works are concerned, the local authority may give retrospective consent to the works, provided that they are satisfied, that the works are compliant with statutory requirements. This may involve some exposure works and a fee will be payable, all costs being borne by the property owner. In other cases, where a certain period of time has elapsed since the unauthorised works were completed, the local authority may be time barred from taking enforcement action. In the event of a property sale, where unauthorised works are discovered (typically by a surveyor carrying out a valuation/condition survey on behalf of the buyer), it is not uncommon for the sellers legal adviser/conveyancer to propose that an indemnity insurance policy be put in place, to cover against the risk of any future enforcement action being taken by the local authority. However these indemnity insurance policies are very limited in scope and are probably only suitable for relatively minor works such as chimney breast removals or alterations to window/door openings. However even in these cases, the surveyor’s recommendations should be followed. For example the remaining parts of a chimney breast in a roof space may need additional support to prevent possible collapse. Indemnity insurance policies would not normally be suitable for more extensive works such as extensions and loft conversions. From a surveyor’s point of view, the main risk from unauthorised works, is not the possibility of future enforcement action being taken, but the risk that the works may not be compliant with the minimum requirements of the building regulations, and as such could pose a health and safety risk to the occupants and the wider public. Apart from the above risks, unauthorised works are likely to cause future problems when the property is sold, which can cause delays in a process where time is vitally important. From a buyer’s point of view, it is vital that suspected unauthorised works are identified at an early stage, so that further legal queries can be made. In the absence of consents, further investigation/exposure works may be necessary, possibly involving the local authority. The buyer will then be in an informed position and can decide whether or not to proceed with the purchase.