As a property owner, there will be times when you want to carry out alterations to your property. You will usually be free to do more minor works as you see fit. However, for more major alterations you will need to seek permission from various sources. We will look at who might need to give you permission, and what could happen if you carry out property alterations without consent.
What sort of permission or consent might I need?
You are likely to need planning permission for most major alterations. Planning permission is granted by your local planning authority. You will require it for works such as substantial extensions, building new structures, and where you are looking at changing the use of a property.
You may also require building regulations approval. This is sometimes required as well as planning permission, but also applies to a wider range of works including loft alterations, new windows and doors, and other such works. Building regulations consent is granted by your local authority building control department.
If you own a leasehold property (e.g. a flat or a shop), your lease is likely to include a provision that prevents you carrying out alterations without your landlord’s consent. This is because any alterations you make to your property are likely to affect the landlord’s freehold interest. (This is easiest to explain in the context of a flat in a block. If you carry out major works, it could affect the rest of the building.) It is in the landlord’s interest to ensure that the structure is sound, that any works comply with any relevant legislation, and that the building is properly insured.
For what you will require your landlord’s consent will depend upon the terms of your lease. The terms can include anything from internal works (e.g. fitting a new kitchen); to extensions or alterations to the exterior of the property. Ordinarily the lease will provide that the landlord is not to unreasonably withhold consent.
Property alterations without planning permission
If you fail to obtain planning permission where required, or do not comply with the conditions in the permission, you will have committed a ‘planning breach’.
If you have failed to make a planning application, the local authority will usually allow you to make a retrospective application. However, if your planning application had failed and you continued with the work, or if you failed to comply with the conditions in the permission, the local authority may issue an enforcement notice. This will require you to put the property back as it was, or to carry out works to ensure the property complies with the planning permission terms. Failure to comply is an offence, and you could face a steep fine.
Property alterations without building regulations approval
The local authority building control department has a number of options for failures to seek building regulations approval. These include:
- Serving an enforcement notice. As with planning permission, this will require the property owner to remove or alter work that does not comply with building regulations.
- Applying for an injunction. Injunctions can be used with or instead of an enforcement notice, but are not common.
- Prosecution in the magistrates’ court. Prosecutions are usually only used for deliberate contraventions of building regulations. The property owner can be held liable for an unlimited fine, which continues at £50 a day for each the contravention is in place after conviction.
- Not providing a completion certificate confirming compliance with building regulations. This is likely to impact on any future sale of the property.
Property alterations without consent of your landlord
If your lease requires that you seek consent to alter your property and you either: a. do not seek consent; or b. carry out alterations even though the landlord has refused consent, you will be in breach of your lease
The landlord could apply to court for an order that you stop carrying out the works and reinstate the property. This may be accompanied by a claim for damages.
Most leases include a forfeiture clause, whereby the landlord can terminate your lease if you are in breach. This is an extreme remedy, but certainly not out of your landlord’s reach, particularly if the alterations are substantial.
3. Bargaining power
In some cases, a landlord might try to use your breach of lease as a bargaining tool. For example, consider that you own a top floor flat and the landlord owns the attic. You unlawfully (i.e. without consent) extend into the attic. Your landlord may be considering all sorts of enforcement action, but an alternative may be for him to sell the attic space to you. The landlord will be in a strong position: buy the attic space for his specified price, or face one of the above enforcement actions.
Other points to note
Property alterations without consent of your landlord, planning breaches etc may also affect:
- your ability to sell your property in the future. Your purchaser will ask you for details and copies of any consents and permissions. Without these, your sale may fall through, or you may need to look at reducing your asking price; and
- your mortgage. The terms of your mortgage may require you to ensure that you comply with planning legislation and the terms of your lease. Note that, depending on the terms of your mortgage, you may face action from your mortgage company if you are in breach.
Planning and lease disputes can be costly. So, we would advise:
- Always seek specialist advice before carrying out alterations to your home or business premises.
- Ensure you obtain all consents and permissions before carrying out any works.
- Finally, if you are unsure whether your lease requires specific steps to be taken, seek legal advice.
If you are concerned that you have carried out property alterations without consent, or would like to discuss a potential breach of lease or planning permission, our property disputes team can assist. Call us today on 0800 988 7756.