Do I need planning permission before I buy?

Q: I am buying a property and I want to move the kitchen, do I need to obtain planning permission before I exchange contracts?

A: If you’re buying a house you have much more control over the works you do than if you’re buying a flat; as a house owner, you are the freeholder (typically) so the only body you will need to apply to for works are the local council, if the works you’re planning are major enough. As a flat owner, you will own the property on a leasehold or share of freehold basis; this means that you will need to consult the freeholder, or your co-freeholders, about any works if they’re more than just cosmetic.

This is a common request as people renovate properties all the time, so if your building is well managed by a managing agent or freeholder then this shouldn’t pose any problems. There is a formal route you’ll need to go down and fees can rack up as a licence to alter needs to be drawn up legally, an appointed surveyor needs to approve plans and the works once they’re carried out, and so on.

In terms of whether you need to go down this formal route before you’ve even actually bought the property, this will depend largely on what’s written in the lease; many leases state that permission for alterations won’t be ‘unreasonably withheld’. If this is the case, you can take some comfort from this and may decide to take a view that you’ll be granted permission in due course. If, however, the lease doesn’t say ‘unreasonably withheld’ then I would recommend you think very carefully whether you’re happy to buy the property even if you can’t get permission.

We have acted for clients on numerous transactions where we had to apply for permission for works as part of the purchase. In some cases, this has delayed the purchase, much to the frustration of the seller, but the risk of not getting permission was too big of a deal breaker for our clients to take a punt on. This involves a lot more work than a normal purchase, not only satisfying the requirements of the formal permission route, but also keeping the seller reassured that you’re still 100% keen to buy the property – and you’re a buyer worth waiting for.

Before you make any final decision, speak to your solicitor and take their advice.

If you have a question you’d like Jo to answer please email or tweet her @joeccles.