If new flats or houses are created without planning permission, they become lawful after a period of four years has passed. This is known as the ‘four year rule’.
In this case, our client had converted an outbuilding in the rear of his property into two separate flats. The works had taken place many years ago and he had rented the flats out for the whole period since.
Last year, he applied to remortgage the building and his lenders requested that he seek confirmation from the council that the flats were lawful.
This can be done through an application for a certificate of lawfulness (also known as a lawful development certificate). You need to prepare some plans of the building and provide detailed evidence of when and how the new dwellings were created and exactly how they have been used in the years since.
Clients often underestimate the volume of evidence required. You cannot assume that the council will take your word for it – you normally need tenancy agreements (if the dwellings have been let), records of communications with the tenants, rent receipts, and anything else to show that the properties have been occupied as separate dwellings. In this case, we submitted 47 different pieces of evidence to Croydon Council.
It was worth it though! The certificate was issued and this property investor adds two new, entirely lawful, flats to his portfolio.
This area of planning law is complex and you should always take professional advice. Some changes of use fall under the ten year rule rather than the four year rule and some actions of the owner or landlord can invalidate an application.
We do not recommend applying for a lawful development certificate without the assistance of a qualified planing consultant with an understanding of the relevant case law. Submitting a weak or poorly considered application could harm, rather the help, your chances.
Crucially, if you apply for a certificate and the council refuses, it is aware of what it considers to be an unlawful development and you are at risk of planning enforcement action.
For help with your certificate of lawfulness, contact the team for advice.