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  • FIRST POST
    • johndhuk
    • By johndhuk 11th Oct 16, 10:12 AM
    • 92Posts
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    johndhuk
    Council declared loft conversion unauthorised, but failed to disclose in local search
    • #1
    • 11th Oct 16, 10:12 AM
    Council declared loft conversion unauthorised, but failed to disclose in local search 11th Oct 16 at 10:12 AM
    Hi all.

    We bought a house last December which had a loft room. We didn't think much of it as we were told it could have been built before building regs and the solicitor told us an indemnity had been provided and there was nothing unusual.

    Before we bought the house, we also performed local searches with the council and nothing unusual came back.

    After moving in, we received a bundle of documents with the house. Recently I had a look through the documents and spotted a letter from the council dated 2002 to the owners at the time.

    It stated that following a series of inspections, some safety issues has been attended to and would be no longer be pursued. It said there were a few other issues, a regularisation application had not been made, and so the conversion remained unauthorised.

    The letter also stated that as a result "this information would be recorded with the property history and brought to the attention of future purchasers".

    I emailed the council to ask about the letter. In particular I wondered if the conversion had later been regularised and that is why it hadn't shown up on the local searches.

    I was told that there was no regularisation. So I asked if there were copies of the inspections available, to try and ascertain what they had identified would be required for us to attempt regularisation. We don't know if the whole thing needs replacing or whether just applying would be successful... and understand it can be quite invasive to inspect, opening ceilings to check insulation etc. I also asked why it wasn't on the local searches we had paid for, despite a letter saying it would be brought to our attention before purchase.

    I got an email on 20th Sept saying it would take about a week to get the files from the archive if still available to see the inspection records.

    I was also told the local search had not shown it because they used to use a manual system where cases were written on a card, and if they didn't write up a card at the time it wouldn't show up.

    I waited over a week for a response with the inspection records, and by Sept 30th still hadn't received anything. So I emailed again to ask if there was any success with the archive search.

    It is now the 11th Oct and I have still not received a response to that email either, no correspondence at all since 20th Sept!

    I'm frustrated. I just want to know what those searches revealed about the loft conversion so we can look at getting it regularised. Does anybody have any suggestions for what I should do next? It feels like I'm getting the cold shoulder.

    I'm also disappointed that the local searches didn't flag this information up before we purchased so we could have made these enquiries then, especially since we have a letter from the council explicitly saying future buyers would be made aware of the loft conversion being unauthorised.

    I'm worried that we now have a legal obligation to inform future buyers of the information we didn't have and that the council are now aware and will update their local searches too. I wonder if this will affect us being able to provide indemnity in the future, and I know that if the local searches showed that the council had explicitly not authorised the loft conversion, this would have put us off purchasing. I'm worried this will make future buyers nervous too.

    Does anybody know of our legal position on this matter? Thanks
Page 1
    • Doozergirl
    • By Doozergirl 11th Oct 16, 10:35 AM
    • 22,240 Posts
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    Doozergirl
    • #2
    • 11th Oct 16, 10:35 AM
    • #2
    • 11th Oct 16, 10:35 AM
    You understand the premise of an indemnity policy? That you specifically don't contact the council.

    You were in exactly the same position as anyone else that buys a house with a loft conversion without building regs. I'm not sure why you've decided to rake over old ground. You opted for an indemnity policy - which is an agreement to let things lie.

    Amongst the negative things you've picked up on, is the positive wording that no further action would be taken - 14 years ago. Whatever it was that didn't comply can't have been so bad or they'd have pursued it further.

    It's interesting that the letter refers to regularisation already as that is a retrospective thing which suggests that the owner at the time was actually opening the same can of worms that you are attempting to do now. It probably was old at that time or it would have been a proper application for building regs, even if it was already recently built.

    You put yourself in a position where any indemntiy policy is worthless, however, you have a letter that clearly states that the matter would not be pursued by building control - the very thing that the indemnity policy covers. So, you're in a slightly better position that you think.

    It's all a bit of a non issue. Don't turn it into one for future buyers to come digging at as well.

    Building regs move on, quickly. A loft conversion from the 20th century, even with building regs, is not going to match a current one.
    Last edited by Doozergirl; 11-10-2016 at 10:41 AM.
    Everything that is supposed to be in heaven is already here on earth.
    • Hoploz
    • By Hoploz 11th Oct 16, 11:03 AM
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    Hoploz
    • #3
    • 11th Oct 16, 11:03 AM
    • #3
    • 11th Oct 16, 11:03 AM
    The paperwork states that the 'safety' problems have been attended to and that they are not interested in pursuing any enforcement. So I would just let it lie and forget about it.

    Was there a sale around the time of the paperwork? It could be someone was buying when this was all brought to light.

    It wouldn't meet current regs anyway so if you want to update, for example to turn it from a 'loft room' into proper habitable accommodation, then you'd have quite a bit to do. If you want an outline of what changes are likely then you could ask a professional like a builder or surveyor what you're likely to have to do in terms of meeting fire escape safety, ventilation etc.

    It's probably structurally fine (it would be showing signs by now if it wasn't) but you are right - you won't know what's underneath unless you open up to check floor joists and insulation.
    • johndhuk
    • By johndhuk 11th Oct 16, 11:36 AM
    • 92 Posts
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    johndhuk
    • #4
    • 11th Oct 16, 11:36 AM
    • #4
    • 11th Oct 16, 11:36 AM
    Thanks for the replies.

    I just checked and the letter was mid June 2002, and the house was sold in late June 2002, so there may be a connection, Hoploz, though the letter refers to fine safety issues initially being raised in November 2001 by building control.

    I enquired about this with the council for 2 reasons.

    1) Since it was evident they had inspected the loft conversion, we wanted to know what those inspections showed so we could consider carrying out regularisation works without ripping the loft apart.

    2) We wanted to know if this regularisation had already taken place, since the local searches didn't show them. This seemed a reasonable possibility given the content of the letter.

    I do not know how we could have pursued either of these things without approaching the council. I don't feel its fair for us to be bound to an indemnity because of an omission on the council's part in the local searches.

    To say we shouldn't have contacted the council seems unfair when a letter such as this one comes to light. Ordinarily we'd have had no reason to contact them, nor would we if they had listed it on the local searches.

    I feel morally, and legally, now we are aware of the letter from the council (which could conceivably not been known to any previous owners as it was hidden away in a stack of documents I only went through by chance), this is something we are obliged to inform future buyers of.

    Is it true regularisation would require extensive works to modern standards? My understanding is that you only need to finish work to building regs at the time of the original work?

    Maybe the best advice is ignore it and let the future buyers discover it for themselves, but this just feels like I'll be putting them in exactly the same position we are in now. It just doesn't sit right as something I'd be comfortable doing, I feel its unfair we're now in this position through no fault of our own.

    So now I'm unsure of how to proceed and what our position is. I just know I'm not comfortable of being anything other than completely honest. It feels really frustrating to be in this situation.
    • johndhuk
    • By johndhuk 11th Oct 16, 11:41 AM
    • 92 Posts
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    johndhuk
    • #5
    • 11th Oct 16, 11:41 AM
    • #5
    • 11th Oct 16, 11:41 AM
    I think we paid over £100 for the local searches, its not like it was free. If the council isn't doing them properly or held accountable, what is the point in even spending that money?
    • davidmcn
    • By davidmcn 11th Oct 16, 11:56 AM
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    davidmcn
    • #6
    • 11th Oct 16, 11:56 AM
    • #6
    • 11th Oct 16, 11:56 AM
    I think we paid over £100 for the local searches, its not like it was free. If the council isn't doing them properly or held accountable, what is the point in even spending that money?
    Originally posted by johndhuk
    The searches are only going to disclose what is readily accessibly in the archives, and they've already explained to you why it wasn't. So it sounds like they did carry out the search properly. They do not however owe you (or anybody else) a particular duty to have everything from 2002 available and/or usefully indexed.

    And you're not "bound" by the indemnity - it's an insurance policy for your benefit, if you choose to do something which invalidates the cover that's up to you. Though if you were intending to pursue regularisation you'd have invalidated the indemnity anyway.
    • glasgowdan
    • By glasgowdan 11th Oct 16, 12:36 PM
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    glasgowdan
    • #7
    • 11th Oct 16, 12:36 PM
    • #7
    • 11th Oct 16, 12:36 PM
    Is it true regularisation would require extensive works to modern standards? My understanding is that you only need to finish work to building regs at the time of the original work?
    Originally posted by johndhuk
    They don't give formal building regs approval unless it meets building regs. NOW.
    • Doozergirl
    • By Doozergirl 11th Oct 16, 12:44 PM
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    Doozergirl
    • #8
    • 11th Oct 16, 12:44 PM
    • #8
    • 11th Oct 16, 12:44 PM
    You're just creating problems for yourself.

    Most houses weren't built with building regs. We don't rush around 'regularising' them. The loft conversion is in excess of 20 years old and it already sounds like it has been effectively 'regularised' to a great degree.

    Are you prepared to start doing things like ripping out the staircase to meet correct head heights? I suspect that whatever was left to do wasn't economically viable and building control settled for 'safe enough' just not to regs. Whatever is it clearly isn't dangerous or they'd have pursued further.

    You will gain nothing from carrying out the work. Even regularisation doesn't meet current regs so why even bother rilping up something a bit substandard to replace it with something else that is substandard?

    A house built now has huge improvements over one from the late 20th century in many ways.

    Utterly pointless.
    Everything that is supposed to be in heaven is already here on earth.
    • JimmyTheWig
    • By JimmyTheWig 11th Oct 16, 12:45 PM
    • 11,464 Posts
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    JimmyTheWig
    • #9
    • 11th Oct 16, 12:45 PM
    • #9
    • 11th Oct 16, 12:45 PM
    How did you get hold of these documents?
    Did you solicitor give them to you?
    Did the vendors leave them for you, without them going through the solicitors?
    • johndhuk
    • By johndhuk 11th Oct 16, 1:48 PM
    • 92 Posts
    • 32 Thanks
    johndhuk
    How did you get hold of these documents?
    Did you solicitor give them to you?
    Did the vendors leave them for you, without them going through the solicitors?
    Originally posted by JimmyTheWig
    The letter was part of a huge bundle of documents sent to us by our solicitor after completion. We're talking a huge stack of everything, really old deeds, old electrics certificates etc. I imagine our solicitor was sent them after completion and forwarded them on.

    Moving the staircase is something we are interested in doing. Currently they're really steep, almost a ladder, and you have to duck under a purlin when you get to the top of the stairs.
    • Hoploz
    • By Hoploz 11th Oct 16, 2:03 PM
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    Hoploz
    Well therein lies your problem!

    Look, if you're planning to do work then just get your plans drawn up and start from scratch. A builder or yes indeed the building inspector, may pick up other areas which could be improved to meet today's standards while they are working and uncovering stuff. Just do the work you'd like, and you'll get it all signed off complete and it's Job Done whenever you come to sell up.
    • giraffe69
    • By giraffe69 11th Oct 16, 2:58 PM
    • 2,012 Posts
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    giraffe69
    So it sounds like they did carry out the search properly.
    I don't think that in 2016 saying that it depended on whether an index card had been filed in and filed is really good enough.
    • societys child
    • By societys child 11th Oct 16, 3:22 PM
    • 3,699 Posts
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    societys child
    I don't think that in 2016 saying that it depended on whether an index card had been filed in and filed is really good enough.
    Originally posted by giraffe69
    An index card that maybe should have been completed years ago . . . so what would you propose?

    • Doozergirl
    • By Doozergirl 11th Oct 16, 5:04 PM
    • 22,240 Posts
    • 63,075 Thanks
    Doozergirl
    The letter was part of a huge bundle of documents sent to us by our solicitor after completion. We're talking a huge stack of everything, really old deeds, old electrics certificates etc. I imagine our solicitor was sent them after completion and forwarded them on.

    Moving the staircase is something we are interested in doing. Currently they're really steep, almost a ladder, and you have to duck under a purlin when you get to the top of the stairs.
    Originally posted by johndhuk
    Then it needs to comply to current regs!

    The get around here is that if you fill in the form in a way that the brief description stating that the loft conversion is existing, the new certificate will reflect that and effectively give you a sign off or sorts. So in the description you would put something like 'replacement staircase for existing loft conversion'.

    Drag up the old issues and you will reignite them. Don't talk about them and you'll get a fresh look at it. BCOs don't care about old work, they really don't have the time or inclination and are generally just happy to see the effort made with new work.
    Everything that is supposed to be in heaven is already here on earth.
    • johndhuk
    • By johndhuk 11th Oct 16, 5:04 PM
    • 92 Posts
    • 32 Thanks
    johndhuk
    I don't think that in 2016 saying that it depended on whether an index card had been filed in and filed is really good enough.
    Originally posted by giraffe69
    The exact wording was:

    "It used to be manual system where such cases were written on a card system to notify land charges of any issues. If that was not done when the case was closed it would not show up on later searches."

    Which reads to me like somebody probably forgot to write it down when closing the case.
    • Sootoo
    • By Sootoo 11th Oct 16, 5:20 PM
    • 19 Posts
    • 7 Thanks
    Sootoo
    Why do you want it regularised - is it so you can count it as an extra bedroom on resale? If so you'll have to go through the process - if not, just let it go and use it as you wish!
    • johndhuk
    • By johndhuk 11th Oct 16, 5:58 PM
    • 92 Posts
    • 32 Thanks
    johndhuk
    Why do you want it regularised - is it so you can count it as an extra bedroom on resale? If so you'll have to go through the process - if not, just let it go and use it as you wish!
    Originally posted by Sootoo
    That is one of the reasons we are interested in getting it regularised.

    I asked the council about the previous building inspections to see what they showed and get an indication as to how much work would be required.

    The problem we're having is that the council told us it would take around 7 days to get these reports... and that was on the 20th September.

    I've chased them up since then and they still haven't responded at all. It feels like I'm getting the cold shoulder.

    It is the fact that the council is seemingly ignoring me that has led me to wonder what are appropriate next steps to take, and also to examine our legal position on the fact the council failed to provide this important information in the local searches we paid for.
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