Why Building Regulations are Important

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What are Building Regulations?

The UK Planning Portal defines Building Regulations as being the “minimum standards for design, construction, and alterations to virtually every building”. In practice, Building Regulations control the methods and materials which builders and installers use in either the construction of a new property or alterations carried out to an existing property, to ensure that works are carried out and completed to proper and safe standards.

Some kinds of building projects are actually exempt from Building Regulations. However, in most cases, if you are planning to carry out building work projects then the works must comply with Building Regulations, particularly to:

• Construct a brand new building;
• Extend an existing building;
• Make internal alterations to a building;
• Install or replace fittings or services in a building (such as gas boilers, hot water cylinders, cavity wall insulation, foul or surface water drainage, replacement doors or windows, and fuel-burning appliances of any type (for example, a log burning stove)).

How Building Regulations are monitored:

As works progress, Building Control (or an approved inspector) will review plans and make routine site inspections to check the relevant stages of works, giving feedback to ensure compliance with the relevant Regulations. Once works have been completed, provided Building Control were satisfied on their site inspections that the works did not contravene Building Regulations, a Completion (or “Final”) Certificate will be issued.

In addition, certain works can be signed off by the contractors or installers themselves, usually in cases of installation of fittings or services (for example windows, or gas boilers). This relies on the Competent Person Self-Certification Scheme (“Competent Person Scheme”). Introduced in 2002, this allows contractors and installers to self-certify that their work complies with Building Regulations, without the need to submit a notice to Building Control (or an approved inspector) alleviating the need for a final site inspection; saving both time and expense.

Breach of Building Regulations:

If the Local Authority believes that any building work is in breach of Building Regulations, they may decide to take action by serving the owner of the Property with an Enforcement Notice. This requires the owner to remedy any defects, by altering or removing any works or installations which contravene Building Regulations. In this instance, it is the owner of the Property at the time the Notice is issued, NOT the owner at the time the works were carried out, who would be responsible for arranging remedial works, and paying any associated costs!

In the event of failure to comply with an Enforcement Notice, the Local Authority may prosecute, impose fines, or seek other Court Orders (for example, to grant injunctions).

Under the Housing and Regeneration Act, 2008 enforcement proceedings for breach can only be brought within two years of completion of the building work that is in breach.

Lack of Building Regulations:

It is not uncommon during conveyancing transactions for Buyer’s Solicitors to come across properties where works have been carried out, often for works such as replacement windows, extensions, or installation of gas boilers, etc. In those situations, Buyer’s Solicitors will request evidence of compliance with Building Regulations.

Occasionally, Sellers are not able to produce any evidence of Building Regulations Consent, Completion Certificates or Installation Certificates, either because the documents have been lost or were never provided to them when they purchased the Property themselves many years before. Local Authority Searches will reveal Building Regulations Applications or Notices but sometimes these will not reveal any such consents, either because the Local Authority were never informed of the works by installers for works under Competent Persons Scheme, or no consents were ever requested from Building Control, in other words – the works were never signed off!

Why does it matter? Remember – It is the owner of the Property at the time Enforcement Notices are issued, NOT the owner at the time the works were carried out, who would be responsible for arranging remedial works and paying any associated costs! In order to ensure Buyers will not suddenly have Building Control knocking on the door issuing Notices costing thousands of pounds to rectify defects, it is therefore important that Buyer’s Solicitors seek evidence of compliance. Not to mention the fact that evidence of compliance will provide comfort to know that the works have been carried out to a suitably safe standard. Lack of evidence would be a major concern that the Property could potentially be dangerous to occupy!

The Usual Solution:

Where any works have been carried out to a property for which there is no evidence of compliance with Building Regulations, conveyancers will often turn to indemnity insurance policies.

Typically, these are insurance policies designed to provide financial cover and protection in the event that were Building Control ever to come knocking and issuing Notices for remedial works to be carried out, the costs for such works are then covered by the insurance provider, in return for a one-off premium payable when taking out such a policy.

Problem Solved? … NO!

Where there appears to be a lack of Building Regulations consent, the issue is twofold:

1. The first issue is, as discussed above, that there could be financial implications in the event enforcement notices or proceedings are issued. The costs could be considerable depending on the nature of the works involved. This issue can be alleviated by the financial protection offered by an indemnity insurance policy. However, the second issue is not alleviated in any way by insurance;

2. The second issue is that, in reality, there is no assurance that any works have been carried out and completed to proper and safe standards. Meaning that the structural integrity of the property and therefore the safety of its inhabitants are put at risk, and again leaving the owner having to pay to rectify any defects to ensure the Property is habitable;

3. Also, indemnity insurance is not foolproof and not acceptable to all buyers or every mortgage lender.

What to do?

Where evidence of Building Regulations cannot be obtained, or if Building Regulations documents are missing, buyers should refer to their Surveyor for advice, particularly for those parts of the Property which are used as habitable spaces, and a structural engineer’s opinion may also be required to ensure occupier’s safety.

What we do:

At Bennett Griffin LLP our conveyancers have extensive experience in reviewing information and searches to ensure that evidence of compliance with Building Regulations is sought for any works which may have taken place to a property, advising sellers, buyers, and mortgage lenders alike where there may be any risks involved. If you need expert legal advice call us on 01903 22999 or by emailing info@bennett-griffin.co.uk

Disclaimer: Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.