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Advice for a smooth house sale

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 05, 2013

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For many of us New Year offers a chance to make plans for the year ahead. If your plan includes selling or refinancing your home, with the housing market still difficult it is becoming ever more important to ensure that you do what you can to make the transaction go through smoothly.

Sometimes building works or other development may have taken place without the appropriate planning permission. This could have been because it was simply overlooked or wasn't a deal breaker in a previous sale. Whatever the reason, these days, with the banks more risk aware and in a buyers' market, questions about the planning and development history of a property can be more of an issue.

Under planning law, a local planning authority has four years in which to commence enforcement action for unauthorised building operations or a change of use of a building to a single dwelling house, and 10 years in which to enforce any other material change of use or breach of condition attached to a planning consent. So, for example, for any extension (not covered by permitted development) which has been built without planning permission, the local planning authority is prevented from taking action after four years from substantial completion of the works. An unauthorised change of use of a non-garden area to a garden area would be 10 years from the date of the change.

One way to avoid a hold up and to satisfy your purchaser or the bank should you fall within either of these categories, would be to apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness of Existing Use or Development. Once obtained, the Certificate is substantially the same as having the planning permission.

Securing a Certificate can be relatively straight forward. The application is made to the local planning authority and must be supported with evidence, usually a statutory declaration explaining what has been done, when the unauthorised works were finished or the change of use or breach of condition began. Usually the application is determined within eight weeks.

The unauthorised development must have taken place for a continuous period of either 4 or 10 years. If there is any uncertainty about this or the local planning authority is not convinced by your evidence because it has received credible objections from third parties, your application will not be granted. If that were to happen, it could lead to enforcement action which is a situation you want to avoid. Therefore, it is important to take legal advice from the outset before any application is made.

Even if you are not planning on selling or refinancing any time soon, it is advisable to have all the relevant paperwork relating to your property in one place and in order. With the New Year already upon us, and New Year resolutions being made, there is no better time to deal with issues relating to your property.

Kirstie Apps is an associate in the planning team at Stephens Scown. The team has received the highest ranking from independent guide to the law Chambers. To contact Kirstie, please call 01392 210700, email solicitors@stephens-scown.co.uk or visit www.stephens-scown.co.uk

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