Some legal tips for home owners who want to improve instead of move

By
Ian Creighton

A large number of home owners are thought to be looking to improve their house rather than move to another one, and remortgaging is often used to release some capital in a property in order to fund renovations and alterations that will hopefully in the long run increase the value of the property. If you are considering more than fresh paint on the walls and a change of sofas, and looking at physically altering your property, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

1. Planning permission

If you are building a garage or extending your property the first thing you will need to do is apply for planning permission. It is also required for conservatories and sun rooms that do not meet certain criteria for exemption, so if you are undertaking such a project contact your local council's planning office and explain what you intend to do, and ask for confirmation on whether planning permission is required.

Failure to get planning permission means that you could be asked to take your construction down if permission cannot be granted retrospectively, and it could affect your ability to remortgage or sell your property. The local authority can take enforcement action within four years of the completion of the work carried out without permission.

2. Building Control

Where as Planning permission deals with your right to construct on your land, Building Control approval deals with the quality of the work carried out to ensure the integrity of the structure of your house is not compromised, and that the work is carried out to the proper standards. Understandably, there are certain criteria to meet when removing walls in a house, changing the heating system and carrying out other significant works. An application must be lodged and an inspection will be carried out on completion so that a certificate can be issued.

Failure to get Building Control approval can often be addressed by getting retrospective approval in the form of a Regularisation Certificate, but this will subject to the works being carried out properly. As with planning permission, failure to have Building Control approvals in place for alterations to the property can affect your ability to sell or remortgage your property, and in some cases works might be disregarded completely for the purpose of a valuation, even though for example you have converted your loft into an extra living space.

3. Lessor's consent

If you own a leasehold property there will be certain restrictions on what you can do with your land. These often include a restriction on constructing or extending the property without first contacting the Lessor or their agent to get their consent. If you pay ground rent you should have details of the ground rent agent. Contact them to advise of any building work you intend to undertake and ask them to confirm their consent to same. They may charge a fee to provide this consent.

If you are unsure if you need the consent of your Lessor take your copy of your Lease to a solicitor for advice. Failure to have the consent for construction at the property may cause issues in a future sale or remortgage, which will require you to obtain the consent retrospectively.

The above is a very brief overview of some considerations to keep in mind when undertaking alterations and improvements to your property. The main thing is that unlike the old adage, when it comes to property alterations it is much better to ask for permission rather than forgiveness.

If you are buying, selling or remortgaging a property in Northern Ireland and require a property conveyancing solicitor to handle the legal process for you, contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast or Bangor by clicking here.