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ILL advised from the council -> (unintentional) unlawful dormer loft conversion in conservation area

Discussion in 'Building Regulations and Planning Permission' started by Sken, 1 Sep 2020.

  1. Sken

    Sken

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    Hi Everyone,

    I bought a victorian terraced house in London back in 2018.

    Keen on doing some upgrades/improvements, I booked a planning application consultation with Croydon Council.

    In the conversation with the "Senior Planning Officer" I asked questions about "squaring off" the roof doing a dormer conversion and he confirmed it could be done under PD provided the usual rules were followed.

    The officer then issued a letter that summarised our conversation. One of the things he stated in the letter is that "the property is not in a conservation area"

    I decided to crack on with the works and carried out an L shaped dormer conversion and obtained the Building Regulations Certificate for it.

    When I recently applied for a Certificate of Lawful Development I received an email by another planning officer who stated that the property is in a conservation area and roof alterations are not permitted. He stated that the planning officer that had advised me in the pre application meeting "must have made an error". The conservation area was indeed augmented in 2007 and hence the reason for confusion, the officer must have looked at the previous boundary which showed the property just out of it.

    I then withdrew the certificate application, which by the way stated that "the works have largely been completed"

    I spent £80K on the loft conversion and I am now in disbelief, and I am wondering what options I have:

    1) Do I risk the council serving an enforcement notice and forcing me to put the property back as it was? What is the likelihood of this if there are no complaints from any neighbours?

    2) Can the officer or the council be held responsible for the erroneous information that led me to spend so much time and money on what appears to be an unlawful loft conversion? Can I legally claim any damages or any costs incurred as they resulted by following wrong information provided by them?

    3) Would the 4 year rule apply given it is a conservation area, and would I be able to apply for a certificate once that time has elapsed?

    4) is there any point in exposing what happened to the council itself, and any chance of the planner issuing retrospective planning permission without demanding substantial changes such as for instance converting the shape of the roof from L Shaped cube to mansard?

    If anybody can provide answers to any of the questions above, or advice about the best way to proceed, it would be greatly appreciated!
     
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  3. Nakajo

    Nakajo

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    1 ) yes. Unlikely in this instance, but possible.

    2) I doubt it. There's probably a disclaimer to that effect somewhere.

    3) Yes. The fact that the Council have said nothing more might imply that this is their intent. A certificate would serve no purpose after the 4 years have elapsed, other than appease the dim conveyancing solicitor who will still tell you you need one.

    4) No, and I imagine the Council have other things on their mind.

    Incidentally, it beggars belief that in the course of buying the property you remained unaware that it was in a Conservation Area. This is the kind of thing that sellers love, because it 'ups' the value of their property. It's also fantastically easy to verify - which, I admit, casts a poor light on the Council, but that's nothing new.
     
    Last edited: 1 Sep 2020
  4. johnny2007

    johnny2007

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    Let time pass, London councils don't enforce after 6 years.
    You have your completion certificate, that's all you need.
    BTW, why did you apply for a certificate of lawful development?
    It's not needed to sell the house.
     
  5. Sken

    Sken

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    Thank you both for your kind replies. Hindsight is such a powerful thing... I myself can't believe that the solicitor hadn't mentioned the words "Conservation Area" in any of our correspondence whilst purchasing the property, but I did read the small print and it is indeed specified in one of the land searches he had sent through.

    Even more ironically, we had a "surprise visit" by a planning enforcement officer while we were building the dormer shell. Even that officer clearly had no idea about it being a Conservation Area, as he was recapping the rules to follow for the Permitted Development conversion and asked me to email over a a copy of the volume calculation to show i twas less than 40 sqm.

    To answer your question about why I applied for a certificate, the reason is that initial plan had always been to do the loft conversion under PD and then apply for a change of use to HMO (C3 > C4) and obtain an HMO license. So I wanted to have the extension works legalised and approved as I was aware that PD is permitted for a single dwelling house (C3) but not for an HMO (C4).
    On top of that, as of January 2020 there is an Article 4 which means that while before I could have converted to HMO under PD, I would now need planning (unlikely to be granted) for renting the house as HMO.

    So I'm stuck with a house that cost me a fortune and present itself as a newly refurbished high end HMO, with 6 bedrooms and 5 brand new bathrooms, but sadly I am unable to use it as such.

    The current plan is:

    - wait a couple more years hoping that no issues arise and no enforcement notice will be issued, perhaps living in it with my own family, or renting it out to a single family on an AST tenancy.
    - re-apply for a CLD once the time has elapsed, which will hopefully be granted with no issues.
    - apply for an HMO license and rent out the property as HMO, and if flagged by the council planning team, put in a planning application as well (likely to be refused)

    So not a great prospect, but if anyone has any more advice on how to proceed it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you
     
  6. johnny2007

    johnny2007

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    HMO=opened a massive can of worms.
    Different kettle of fish i'm afraid, councils are a bit obsessed with making HMO 100% safe and rightly so.
    Rent it on an ast to a decent family, eventhough it won't be as profitable.
     
  7. tony1851

    tony1851

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    HMOs up to six persons have the same permitted development rights as C3 homes.
     

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  8. Sken

    Sken

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    Thank you Tony for pointing that out, certainly useful to know that small HMOs do have PD, as it seems to be a hot topic interpreted differently by some Local Authorities.

    And I do understand Johnny's comment on HMOs being a completely different kettle of fish. I must say however that in my case, the whole investment was planned purely around the HMO conversion, and I probably spent twice as much on the project as I would have, purely to comply with every single HMO regulation, from room sizes, to acoustic insulation, fire safety, to the plumbing etc.

    I literally bet everything I had on it, because I thought it was a failsafe plan worth the initial cost. Only to find out that from January 2020, (after the Article 4 direction was put in place in Croydon) I am unable to rent out the property as an HMO due to lack of planning permission.

    Now that I know that the property does not benefit from PD anyway because of the Conservation Area issue, if I applied for an HMO license from the licensing team, what is the likelihood that the planning team would become aware of it and consequently issue a warning or enforcement?

    Ultimately my goal is to be able to run the place as a perfectly compliant and valid HMO, just the idea of gutting a newly refurbished place to remove bathrooms etc kills me, so I want to do everything I can to maximise the chance of getting planning permission for the HMO use, which until recently wouldn't have been necessary. I can for-see the Local Authority refusing it purely on reasons like lack of bins storage or bicycle parking... very frustrating... any advice is massively appreciated!
     
  9. johnny2007

    johnny2007

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    Council departments don't speak to each other in my experience.
    In fact, even if you want them to speak to each other they will not.
    Regarding the HMO, maybe you just need to settle for a smaller number of people.
    Don't know the ins and outs of HMO, however my friend has a room for himself which he uses as an office and rents other 3 rooms to "lodgers".
    I call that a loophole.
     
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  11. DevilDamo

    DevilDamo

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    Just be weary they come under the same umbrella and it will not be difficult for different departments to look up or enquire about varying property history. Is it really worth the risk? As an example and when I worked in Building Control, we used to notify Planning of every BR application.
     
  12. ^woody^

    ^woody^

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    You could take your claim to the local authority omsbudsman for maladministration by the council.
     
  13. Nakajo

    Nakajo

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    I doubt that you'd be successful in this instance, but if you choose to pursue that option let us know how you get on.
     
  14. tony1851

    tony1851

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    Did the Article 4 direction come into force in Jan 2020, or was that the date it was put forward? Councils are usually required to give 12 months notice before an A.4 direction comes into force.
     
  15. Nakajo

    Nakajo

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    They're not 'required' as such, but, if they don't, then they become liable for compensation claims, so they always 'do'!
     
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  16. blup

    blup

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    Go the local government ombudsman, officer ignorance is not a legal defence AFAIK.

    Blup
     
  17. Nakajo

    Nakajo

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    Nothing like not reading the thread.
     
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