Philippa Rudd - EDP Property column. Listed buildings and indemnity insurance...

We are buying a beautiful house in the countryside that is Listed (Grade II).  We are concerned about the history of the house and whether the current owners have complied with all necessary planning laws as they seem rather cavalier. There is a modern looking conservatory at the rear of the house. Could we have a problem with this?

Owning a Listed Building is a responsibility. The council can take enforcement action against you if a previous owner has breached the Listing. Your solicitor should obtain a copy of the Listing. You will need to ensure that all improvements and additions such as the conservatory have the benefit of planning permission, building regulation approval and Listed Building consent.

Our solicitor has been informed that the conservatory replaced a previous lean to construction that was built some time ago. Could the council pursue us if this was not authorised?

There is no time limit for the council to take action for breach of the Listing. An indemnity policy would give you some protection. The seller should pay for such a policy and your solicitor will check the conditions of the policy with you. The policy will cover the risk of future enforcement action over the lack of Listed Buildings consent. You will need to comply with the conditions of the policy. You should not disclose the existence of the policy to any third parties. Carrying out further works may breach the terms of the policy.

You could ask the council to inspect the house now to ensure that all necessary consents have been obtained, but this may then mean that indemnity insurance is not available as the council could be aware of any breaches.

Will a policy cover us if there is a problem in the future?

You may need to apply for retrospective consent from the council but do check with the insurers before taking any such steps. If this is not granted, the policy may cover the cost of replacing or altering the conservatory to comply with the requirements of the council or to compensate you for the loss of the conservatory if it has to be demolished.

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