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  • Writer's pictureCharles Riley BA(Hons) DipSurv AssocRICS VRS

What to do when buying a home without building regulations.

- Brooks Surveyors Blog

Building Control Completion Certificate
Building Control Completion Certificate

Have you made an offer on or are thinking of buying a property which has been renovated or altered without building regulations? Here's what do you need to know.

When buying a property, there's a crucial aspect you must consider: building regulations. These rules, often referred to as 'building regs,' cover various areas to ensure safety and quality standards in a building. Let's break down the importance of building regulations, why they matter, and what you should know about them.

Why Building Regulations Matter

Building regulations serve to protect people's safety and well-being within and around a building. They cover key areas, such as:

- Structural integrity, electrical safety, and fire precautions.

- Proper ventilation and hygiene standards.

- Soundproofing to maintain privacy.

- Preventing dampness and moisture-related issues.

- Ensuring effective drainage and waste disposal.

- Protection against falls, collisions, and impacts.

- Conservation of energy and fuel resources.

In short, these regulations make sure that a building is safe, healthy, and energy-efficient for its occupants.

The Risks of Ignoring Building Regulations

If a property you're interested in has undergone alterations without proper building regulations approval, there's a risk that the building might not meet required safety and energy efficiency standards. This can lead to potential problems in the future, affecting your safety, property value, and even your ability to sell the property.

Reasons for Unapproved Alterations

Sometimes property owners might not be aware of the need for building regulations approval. They might have tried to save money by hiring unregistered tradespeople or doing the work themselves. In some cases, the owner might have suspected that permission wouldn't be granted but proceeded with the work anyway.

Home Improvements and Building Regulations

Building regulations also apply to certain home improvements. For instance, if you're installing a new heating system, electrical work, or new windows, you might need a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate. A building inspector checks the work's compliance and issues the certificate if everything is up to standard.

Approved vs. Unapproved Work Examples

Examples of work that typically require building regulations approval:

- Adding or extending a building.

- Changing fuse boxes and related electrical work.

- Plumbing in a new bathroom.

- Altering electrics near water sources.

- Replacing doors and windows.

- Installing cavity wall insulation.

- Adding extra radiators.

Examples of work that usually don't require building regulations approval:

- Routine repairs and maintenance (excluding certain elements like fuse boxes, oil tanks, and glazing units).

- Installing a new sink, toilet, or bath that fits like the old one.

- Adding new lighting and power points (except those around baths or showers).

Consequences of Unapproved Work

Purchasing a property without proper building regulations approval means you inherit the problem. Future enforcement actions by local authorities could require costly remedial work or even reverting the property to its original state. This can lead to reduced property value and difficulties in selling. Mortgage lenders might also take issue with the lack of approval.

Solutions for Unapproved Work

If you're still interested in purchasing a property with unapproved alterations, you have a couple of options:

1. Retrospective Building Regulation Consent

As a buyer, you have the option to request the seller to seek retrospective consent. This involves an inspector visiting the property to evaluate the completed work and determine its compliance with regulations. If the work meets the requirements, a 'Regularisation Certificate' will be issued.

However, there are potential issues associated with seeking retrospective consent:

  • The inspector might face limitations that prevent a comprehensive assessment. As a result, you might receive confirmation from the Building Control Department that no action will be taken, but not a full approval.

  • Limited inspections could leave you uncertain about the alterations' safety and adherence to regulations.

  • The seller might hesitate to pursue retrospective consent. This is because notifying the local authority about the lack of building regulations approval could lead to requirements for rectifying or undoing the work if it doesn't meet standards.

  • By informing the council, the seller may become ineligible for an indemnity insurance policy, which could offer protection in this situation.

2. Building Regulation Indemnity Insurance

A more commonly chosen solution involves your conveyancing solicitor requesting the seller to secure an indemnity insurance policy. This policy would provide coverage for any costs or losses that arise if the local authority takes enforcement action against you as the new owner.

It's reasonable to expect the seller to bear the cost of this policy, which is generally quite affordable.

However, there are potential issues associated with indemnity insurance:

  • While having insurance is valuable, it doesn't alter the fact that the building's safety might still be a concern. It's advisable to conduct a suitable survey to ensure the building's condition.

  • The insurance will safeguard you against costs linked to enforcement actions, but it won't cover general expenses or losses stemming from property defects.

  • If the previous owner had their permission denied by the local authority for the property works, the insurance policy will not be valid. It's crucial to have your solicitor confirm this aspect.

  • Indemnity insurance may only cover adjustments made to the property if they are over a year old.

  • If the local council is informed that you lack a completion certificate for the works, the insurance policy will be rendered invalid.


When considering a property purchase, don't overlook building regulations. They play a vital role in ensuring safety, efficiency, and quality. If a property has unapproved alterations, weigh your options carefully, seek professional advice, and choose the solution that aligns with your priorities and risk tolerance. Remember, it's better to make an informed decision now than to face complications later on.


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