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  • Landlords in Distress

    Planning Enforcement Notice Advice

    Hi all, apologies if this is in the wrong section..

    Some months ago I posted about our house having its council tax rebanded to two flats on a count of 2 units in the property. This issue has continued however at the same time we now have a much more serious problem in the form of a planning enforcement notice issued upon us.

    In 2014 we extended our house (then a 3 bed end of terrace) into a 5 bed property over 3 floors with 2 kitchens, living areas, etc.

    In 2015 the council told us we were in violation of planning due to illegally converting the house into two flats without planning consent. and without planning permission the installation of hardstanding to the front of the property. As such they ordered us to remove a kitchen therefore returning the property to a single dwelling.

    Since then we obtained HMO status and fought with the council over their grounds not to award flat status, which they state in the enforcement notice as being:

    • Previous plot sub 130m2. (property was double storey extended to the side, rear and a dormer added creating a large house).
    • Lack of internal space to meet min standard (which I do not believe to be the case) and lack of private and communal amenity space
    • Lack of adequate cycle parking space and facilities for the storage of waste and recycling (which I do not believe to be the case)
    • Installation of hardstanding facilitates the provision of a parking space which leads to highway safety issues (tried on numerous occasions to prevent the tenant parking there, he wont listen).

    Actions from us:

    • Cease the use of the property as two flats (we are in the process of trying to remove the tenants, however one set have an assured shorthold tenancy agreement in place with no break options until February so legally we are stuck)
    • Remove all but one of the kitchens and associated facilities (kitchen wall, base units, sink, worktop surfaces, cooking facilities and cooker hood) as well as cut off water and gas supply connections (we intend to remove the upstairs kitchen cooker, hood, sink, but would like to retain the cupboards for storage?)
    • Remove all but one of the bathrooms and bathroom facilities ie shower, bathing facilitates, WC, wash basin and pedestal and remove piping and waste collections (I cant understand why?? How can we have a 5 bed HMO with one bathroom this makes no sense and achieves nothing? Its still a house with the bathrooms and you usually dont require planning permission to build a bathroom in an existing space so I dont get this??)
    • Remove the hardstanding and replace with soft landscaping (previously the council advised if we returned the house to a single dwelling this would no longer be an issue)

    Time for compliance 3 months from 4th sept 18.

    We're happy to comply with removing the kitchen as above but I'm really fretting about the 5 bathrooms? Can they really enforce this? There seems to be no negotiating with them at this point, an appeal costs £912 and im not sure they will listen..

    Can anyone provide any advice please, it would be really appreciated..

    Thanks

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    Why did you add such a large extension and convert into two flats without planning permission?

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    When you say you removed all but one of the kitchens do you mean there was more than one kitchen in each of the the two flats you had created?

    It sounds as though this was a huge development to make without permission and it is not surprising then that the council have not taken kindly to such liberties being taken.

    You could try asking for retrospective permission for whatever aspect of the place you value most (HMO? flats?) but it sounds as though the council are on the warpath and it's not surprising really IMHO.

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    Sorry guys, I should have been clearer. We obtained planning permission for all the external structural work which was signed off for building regs and was ok in 2014.

    The issue is the internal configuration, our original plan was to have it as a 3 bed house and flip it.

    However as the planning took so long to come through (over 18 months) we changed our plans to have two separate living spaces one for me and one for my brother (as we are the two owners). So we had one kitchen fitted upstairs and one downstairs, 3 beds upstairs and 2 downstairs.

    Soon after we both ended up moving out and decided to rent the property out rather than sell it. Thats when the issues started..

    There currently is one kitchen in each "flat"

    You're right council are on the warpath, which we understand which is why we want to comply with turning it back into a house. However this issue of the bathrooms to be removed just seems OTT and were not sure what we can do about it? With the enforcement it seems they could take us to court if we fail to comply with any of the items listed but I dont feel like they have any grounds to do so for the bathrooms?

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    I;m not an expert - so please don't take this as gospel - but I'd be thinking along these lines...

    Do the Council know that you can't legally kick the tenants out without going through the proper procedure. Surely they will give you more time if you give an undertaking to lawfully evict your tenants at the earliest opportunity.

    If they don't go for that, when did they serve the Enforcement Notice? I think you have up to 6 weeks to lodge an Appeal (?).

    To buy yourself some time,  the appeal route might drag things out long enough to satisfy your obligations to tenants because the Planning Inspectorate has a huge backlog. Phone them - they're very approachable - and they'll tell you how long it might take.

    You could do it yourself to save money and, providing the council don't go for costs, it might work out okay for you.


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    I have just read your original post in which you state at a pre planning meeting the council said you can not convert the property into two flats, and gave their reasons, which you appear to have ignored.  I think the chance of winning any appeal is extremely slim and would be in your interest to comply with the enforcement order.

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    Okay, understood.

    I think although OTT it may be to remove 5 bathrooms, this council need to be appeased and I think I would look at the plans and see whether you could combine some of the surplus bathrooms either together to make one good sized bathroom or to incorporate them into other rooms to make those rooms more spacious and whilst acknowledging your previous mistake try to respectfully request that an en suite for the master bedroom is allowed to remain in addition to the family bathroom and maybe a downstairs loo?

    This will need to be a case of some severe back-pedaling on the part of you and your brother and some negotiating to come up with a solution the council will accept.

    If there is one thing councils don't like it's people 'cocking a snook'  (Yorkshire term !?) at regulations and they need to feel satisfied they have asserted their authority.

    Good luck anyway.


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    Doing things lawfully is usually advisable:


    Just a thought.

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    Would you consider spending some money on advice from a planning consultant? I listened to some podcasts from Mark Homer when he spoke a planning consultant who discussed the situation of a property owner facing enforcement action. I think it might have been David Kemp https://drkplanning.co.uk/. There is a risk that you might spend money and discover your situation is hopeless.

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    "...There is a risk that you might spend money and discover your situation is hopeless..."

    Yes, and there's also a risk that we're talking to ourselves because there hasn't been any come-back from the OP for a few days!

    I agree with you Stephen, and this is why I suggested that they liase directly with the Planning Department and the Planning Inspectorate purely to buy more time [to legally evict the tenants prior to reinstating the building] rather than throw loads of money at planning professionals, who most probably won't get this turned-over in any event.

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    Hi all, apologies for the delayed response, been away with the family for the weekend to try to de-stress..

    Appreciate all the advice and comments.

    Re the council's knowledge of kicking tenants out being illegal. The officers comment was : the council would under no circumstances accept liability for the breach of your contract with your tenants, this is your responsibility. It is also your responsibility to contact the Council Tax department and inform them of any changes to the property which may result in changes to the amount liable.

    @Anotherjohn I think you're right we may need to appeal just to gain a bit more time to edge the tenants out to allow us to do the work required.

    The officer is particularly unhelpful. We have been liaising with her since February. I left her a voicemail on Wednesday to which she has still not called back and she waited until 8 mins before she left work for the week on Thursday to reply to my email (she only works 3.5 days a week). Where remedial actions have been outlined and are prescriptive she's not willing to even discuss other ways to resolve the issue. She says our time to negotiate has gone and now you must do as we say or else.

    @EssexLL - Appreciate your comments, we are where we are and want to complete the necessary actions to remedy the areas where we are in breach above. However my concern is the bathrooms and hardstanding where in my opinion (and this is where im looking for advice) there is no ground for enforcement?

    @Annenixon57 - The submitted plans to the council in 2013 included one bathroom upstairs and a downstairs loo. So for the PEN to state all but one bathroom must be removed doesnt make sense? Appreciate we need to appease the council and in all my communications for the past 3/4 we have indicated willingness to comply with the removal of the upstairs kitchen and not concealed the configuration of the property. We built the bathrooms in spaces where only really bathrooms or very large cupboards can be placed so not really worth removing..

    @Stephen Gulliver - Yes we would, thank you for the suggestion, I was googling other firms myself last week. As above we wish to comply with the removal of the kitchen and return of the house to a single dwelling. However as a fully licensed HMO we do not wish to lose the bathrooms and feel there are other ways to resolve the hardstanding issue like building a wall to stop cars entering.

    Since I last posted I have spoken to the agents to try to convince the tenants to leave. If they refuse to do so we may need to appeal anyway to postpone the PEN or we may need to move them to other parts of the property to allow us to carry out the kitchen removal and re-draw up their contracts as HMO bedroom leases instead..

    I've also spoken with an architect who has worked in the local areas for over 30 years. I've used him for planning permission with this council on another property previously and found him to be knowledgeable. His advice as you have all indicated was to comply with the PEN however he stated that there is no restriction on the addition of bathrooms to a property and that indeed a larger property (as this now is approx 175m2) with 5 bedrooms would need extra bathrooms and they shouldnt be able to enforce their removal.

    We will consider appointing a consultant depending on the costs to aid us in the appeal.. However I was wondering if anyone had an experience with PEN's where parts of the remedial actions were not abided by (as in our case with the bathrooms above) and the outcome of said PENs?

    My understanding is, if we do not appeal, we have 3 months from the first week of Sept to carry out the actions. If we do not, we can be taken to court and potentially the subject of an unlimited fine which obviously we do not want. I just cant understand how the council can add extra things in to the PEN at this stage when we've been discussing this issue for 6 months. Seems like mob tactics to me?


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