There are over 17,000 listed buildings in Kent and many potential buyers are drawn to the charm of owning and living in a historic building, but there can also be problems associated with buying a listed property.
In England and Wales there are three types of listed buildings – Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II. These properties carry restrictions on work that can be carried out, the higher the grade the more stringent the restrictions. The listed status is in place to protect buildings of historical interest and importance. The major problem with listed buildings is that if works have been carried out to the property since its listing without listed building consent the local authority has the power to ask for alterations to be put right regardless of the time that has passed since those works were carried out. When works have been carried out to buildings without requisite planning permission or building regulations approval there is generally a time limit for such enforcement action.
When buying a listed property the legal process involved in the conveyancing process is not any different from that in respect of a non-listed building. The “standard” searches and enquiries will disclose whether the property is a listed building. Once this information is available then more detailed enquiries would be raised to ensure that if any works had been carried out to the property since its listing that these had the appropriate listed building consent in addition to any requirement for planning permission or building regulations approval.
Because a listed building will generally be older I would advise a buyer to have an independent survey carried out and would recommend the use of a surveyor specialising in listed buildings. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings says that a homeowner is a “custodian for life” and has a duty to maintain these old and listed buildings so that they can be passed on to the next generation, hopefully in a better condition, and certainly not any worse. A surveyor should be able to ascertain alterations that have been carried out to the property and this would enable the buyer and the solicitors acting on the buyers behalf to ensure that any alterations had the appropriate consent.
If the appropriate consent had not been obtained (as there may be a requirement for the property to be put back into its original state) the purchase price could be renegotiated to cover the costs that are likely to be incurred or alternatively, time permitting, the seller could be asked to remedy the works or to obtain the appropriate listed building consent prior to completion of the transaction.
If you have purchased a property where the previous owners have carried out some minor internal building work without prior consent or permission from the planning authorities then it is unlikely that you would have any recourse against the previous owner, unless they had misrepresented the situation to you.
With a listed building as you are now the owner you are responsible for either restoring the property to its original condition or obtaining retrospective consent and in this respect the conservation officer at the local authority would be able to assist. The problem will not disappear with the passage of time and furthermore as an alteration to a listed building without listed building consent is a criminal offence it is not generally possible to obtain indemnity insurance with regard to the same. Therefore in respect of a listed building it will be necessary either to restore the property to the condition that it was at the time of the listing or alternatively in consultation with the conservation officer obtain the appropriate consent.