Buying a House Without Building Regulations Approval

Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager Caragh Bailey
(Last Updated: 08/12/2023)
6 min read
SAM Conveyancing's Guide to Buying a House Without Building Regulations Approval

Building regulations (or building regs) were introduced in 2010, to make sure new builds and certain building works are safe and energy efficient. These works need to be signed off by the local building authority to confirm that they are sound. It is a statutory requirement to obtain building regulations approval.

Buying a house without building regulations approval is risky - both physically and financially.

If you find that the property you are trying to purchase does not have the proper building regs certificates, there are some solutions, which we'll explore below.

What building works require building regulations approval?

What building works don't require building regs approval?

  • Structural work & Alterations

  • Extensions, including some conservatories

  • Drainage

  • Heat producing appliances

  • Cavity wall insulation

  • New electrics

  • Excavation and pouring of new foundations

  • Building of oversite

  • Damp Proofing

  • Signing off a new build prior to completion

  • Garage Conversions

  • Work carried out by a member of the Competent Persons Scheme

  • Most repairs and maintenance (except heating systems, oil tanks, fuse boxes and glazing units)

  • New power points and lighting points, or repairs/maintenance to existing circuits (except around baths and showers)

  • Replacing toilets, baths, sinks and basins (same type fixture in same location - ie replace an old tub with new tub)

Work that is exempt from building regs may still require planning permission.

What are the risks of buying a house without building regulations approval?

If you buy a house without building regulation approval, the problem becomes yours. This could mean that you would have to pay to fix the work or even undo the work, returning the house to its original state. This is particularly problematic where a buyer pays more for a property due to an extension or loft conversion which they then also have to pay to remove.

1. You may have to re-do the work or restore the property, to comply with building regs

If the local authority take enforcement action against you, you could be forced to re-commission the work to the correct standard, or even restore the property to its original state. This can become very expensive and may be unachievable if you have maxed out your credit to purchase the property, forcing you to sell.

2. The property may be worth much less than you pay for it

You may find that the property is difficult to sell and you get less for it. If the value is effected this can also affect the amount that mortage lenders are willing to lend against it.

3. You might not be able to get a mortgage

Mortgage lenders often refuse to lend you money for buying a house without building regulations approval. Even if they will, they will usually lend you less to account for the risk, which may place the property out of your budget. If you are a cash buyer, you may think that this doesn't matter - but it is likely to become a problem when you come to sell, if you can only sell to cash buyers, or, if you need to release equity from the property at a later date.

4. The structural integrity and safety of the building may be compromised

Building regs were introduced to keep buildings safe. If the building work was not carried out with building regulations approval you might face less immediate issues, such as insufficient insulation leaking-away all the heat in the building, raising your heating costs and causing damp and mould, which may effect your health.

You might also face much more serious problems, for example:
  • Irregular tread or drop size on stairs can pose a serious trip hazard
  • Improperly installed plumbing or electrics may cause fire or flooding
  • Insufficient ventilation around kitchen appliances may cause them to overheat and break or start a fire
  • Too-shallow foundations for the weight of the building and composition of the ground, could result in subsidence and collapse
  • Knocking through walls without sufficient reinforcement could result in the collapse of the building

What is the solution when buying a house without building regulation approval?

If the risks are too great, option number one is to pull out of the purchase, altogether. If you have your heart set on the property, have weighed the risks and deemed them to be worth it, there are some solutions available to you. In some cases a full structural survey will be necessary to determine whether the property is a hidden death trap.

1. Retrospective Building Regulation ('Regularisation')

You could ask the seller to obtain retrospective consent. An inspector will visit the property and assess the work, if it meets regulations, they will issue a Regularisation Certificate.

  • Only available on work carried out after 11 November 1985, but most local authorities will only issue these on works up to 10-15 years old.
  • If the inspector cannot carry out a full check - where the works in question are hidden, for example - then they cannot give full approval, only confirm that the building control department wont take action against you. You may require a full structural survey for reassurance that the integrity of the building is sound.
  • The seller may be reluctant to do this as if the inspector finds that the work does not meet building regs, they will have to rectify or undo the works.
  • Once the council is aware that the work does not meet standards, then neither they nor any prospective buyer can get indemnity insurance (see below).

2. Building Regulations Indemnity Insurance

You can request that the seller purchases building regs indemnity insurance for the uncertified works. This will cover your costs and losses if the local authority decide to take action against you after you purchase the property. This cover is inexpensive and most sellers will be willing to pay for it to resolve the issue of the missing certificates.

  • The building may still be unsafe. You will need a survey.
  • The insurance only covers you against costs or losses incurred as a result of enforcement action taken against you by the local authority. If the property is defective, you would still have to cover the costs of repairs or shoulder the loss of the property value yourself.
  • Some indemnity insurance only covers works over 1 year old.
  • The insurance will be invalid if the local authority become aware that you do not have a completion certificate for the works.

3. Building Survey

A building survey is always recommended when purchasing a property. Your SAM Conveyancing Executive can guide you through which type of survey is suitable for your new home. In some cases a full structural survey will be necessary to ensure the building is safe. You should also consider having a separate gas & electric test.

  • The survey can be the most expensive part, but:
  • A proper survey is highly recommended before completing any purchase anyway, and
  • This will give you peace of mind that the building is structurally sound as well as highlight any concerns or defects within the property

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Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager
Written by:

Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.

Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Reviewed by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands-on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.

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