Building control regs for loft conversions

Hi,
First time poster, did a quick search but could not find anything specific.
I'm considering buying a property advertised as 2 bed + attic. However, I have concerns:
~The property has a sign on the front stating "1899" and is the middle of a 3 house terrace. ~The property has stairs (not a ladder) situated between the front and back bedrooms heading to the attic from the first floor landing. Presumably through where the airing cupboard used to be. ~The attic has a single velux window, has been boarded, a radiator installed, a light and electric power. ~Attic space is advertised as being 17'5'' x 14'0'' ~The doors leading off of stairs/landings are not fire doors and there are no smoke detectors in the attic.
Have spoken to the agent the current owners have lived there 12 years and the work was conducted prior to them. The do not have any certificates for any works done or checks made. They claim they had no problems obtaining a mortgage - but then I don't know the type of level of survey the had.
I am quite keen on this property but the lack of building control regs/certificates worry me quite a bit.
Would the fact there's a proper staircase in place suggest to the building officer it's not being used as "storage" and is in transition to a habitable area - meaning taking the stairs out until everything is approved? Does the position of the stair (not above the stairs from ground to first floor, but at right angles to these) make a difference. The velux window seams a bit high to me (think i read it needs to be 600mm -1100mm) but i think to lower it might be a problem as there's a pearl beam just below it. -If fire proofing ceilings/walls is required would adding a second layer of plasterboard/ceiling boards to the surfaces suffice or is it more involved than that?
What would be the correct approach to take, I had considered talking to building control office for tameside but i don't want to put any future building insurance at risk or cause indirect problems for the current owner?
Should I walk away from a property like this?
Sorry if this is covered elsewhere, I did search but not sure if I used the correct terms.
Any help that can be given on this would be greatly appreciated.
Simon
--
Eviltoad


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Eviltoad wrote:

Hi. Pull up a cat, mind the angle grinder, help yourself to some IPA.

Sounds like a standard three/four-floor[1] terraced house. The dog-leg staircase and floored attic room was built with the house, a bit similar to this:
http://mdfs.net/User/HWPS/Docs/Plans/CammSt/70a.gif
[1]four floors if you count the cellar/basement.

It's a "purlin". The velux window will be a replacement for a glazed skylight - basically, a wooden window. Depending on where the purlin is, the only practical place for the window will have been either immidiately above the purlin, or immediately below the purlin. If below the purline the usual method was to have a small alcove into the eves space under the window.

Sounds like a standard late-Victorian terraced house, doesn't sound like there's anything abnormal about it. Make sure you get a survey, make sure there are access hatches into the eves spaces so the insides can be examined.
JGH
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With the purlins that high it looks like it was built like that. If it had been built as non-habitable roof space they wouldn't have bothered putting the purlin high enough for a ceiling. It looks identical to my Mum's house in Sheffield. If you look inside the eves space I expect you'll find a second purlin just behind the wall aligned with the other side of the chimney breast.
The oddity is the front-back main staircase and the crosswards attic staircase. Conventionally the main staircase runs across the house between the fron room and the back room, and the attic staircase runs from the landing forwards above the front bedroom cupboard. However, I have seen houses of your layout, not many in Sheffield, but they do exist.
It looks like your kitchen is a later add-on, which supports the alternative staircase arrangement - it's only on houses with no offshot kitchen that I've seen the front-back staircase arrangement.
I expect that your bathroom window is non-original and doesn't match the other windows. I expect if you look carefully at the landing you'll find evidence that the whole of the back was a single bedroom with the door between the stair newel post and the attic doorway. That will be further evidence that it was built that way.
I'd have no problem buying it in conjunction with a satisfactory survey.
JGH
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On 04/06/2012 23:15, Eviltoad wrote:

Hi and welcome.

Can you tell if the floor has been strengthened?

How many stories are there in total now?

If its been there that long then there is not much to worry about as such from a regulatory point of view.
Loft conversions (of that time) were unlikely to need planning consent, but would have come under building control if they were adding "habitable" space such as a bedroom. However enforcement powers for the LABC only extend for a couple of years anyway. So, as far as I am aware, there is no possibility of anyone popping up and demanding changes now (unless its a death trap posing immediate danger to its neighbours). Perhaps Hugo could fill in more on this?
There is then the question of whether the work is structurally safe, and sound. The soundness you can probably take as ok since its obviously been there for some time and not fallen down. If you carried on using it in the same way, then chances are it won't all of a sudden now after all these years.
You may however find that its not to an adequate safety standard with respect to escape from fire, but that would only have significance if you were planning on using it as bedroom space.

at this stage its a moot point, since its well beyond the point anyone could take any action to correct problems.

No.
The rules for loft conversions have changed somewhat recently. There was a time that if you had habitable space and the house was now in effect three stories, then you needed an escape window. This meant that a velux style window would need to be a top opening one, and and also n need to be within 1.7m of the eves of the roof.
However the rules changed a few years ago, and now there is no requirement for escape windows, but all the doors that open onto the primary escape route must be fire doors.

Again, it depends on what you are doing and why as well as what is already there. Assuming you are planning on using the attic as a bedroom, and its a third storey, and there is currently inadequate protection, then yes, a second layer of PB would do it. As would stuffing the floor void with a fire resistant insulation.
That is what I did on mine to "make sure":
http://www.internode.co.uk/loft/superstructure.htm

Personally it would not worry me - but it depends on how you are going to use the space. If its just for storage then there is nothing to worry about. If you want to use it as habitable space, then it would be worth investigating how the conversion has been done, and what work to do to bring it up to an acceptable standard should it not already be ok.
After this period of time, there is no need to worry about the paperworks side at all.
(Our current place had conversion work done on the loft - it was under the auspices of the LABC department, but there was never a completion certificate issued for it. It did not cause any problems as it was historical by then)

Not if you like the place and the price is right.

By all means have a look about my loft conversion site - it will give you some idea of what one needs to do to do a completely legit job. However keep in mind the rules have changed since I did mine, so some things would be different if doing today (mostly means of escape and fire protection)
--
Cheers,

John.

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On Tue, 05 Jun 2012 15:15:03 +0100, John Rumm

"One of the usual observations about running any large project is true of this one. That being, that doing 90% of the work takes 90% of the time. Doing the remaining 10% of the work takes the other 90% of the time!"
Apart from the mistripe, tell me about it. I've found it's more like 90% work = 50% time, remaining 10% = 50%.
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[Default] On Tue, 05 Jun 2012 15:15:03 +0100, a certain chimpanzee,
and wrote:

Any building that is imminently dangerous to people in and around the building can be acted upon by the LA. "Imminently dangerous" in this context would be a roof about to collapse because someone has taken away all the structural members, a gable wall swaying in the breeze, someone driving a bus through your living room, etc. Below that is 'potential dangerous'; dodgy chimney stacks, loose slates, etc. Unauthorised loft conversions that don't cause a danger to anyone but the people in their own house aren't really actionable.
There used to be a power in the Building Act where an inadequate means of escape in a rented building over 3 storeys could be adressed, but IIRC that section has been removed by some other legislation. Housing could always act if a property is rented and is unfit for habitation. Again, that would have to be pretty bad for most authorities to act.
--
Hugo Nebula
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[Default] On Mon, 4 Jun 2012 22:15:05 +0000, a certain chimpanzee,
and wrote:

What you can do depends to some extent on when the work was carried out.
Does it look like the house was built as a three storey? Have a look along the road; are there others with similar rooflights? Do the fixtures look original? If yes, then it's likely that the floor structure will be no worse than the floors below. If no, then was the work carried out before 1985? If so, then it can't be retrospectively approved. If it were converted after 1985, then a Regularisation Certificate can be applied for.
The use of the space is what's important, not how you access it. I've had many a discussion with a householder who has said that their room in the roof that has plastered walls, laminate flooring, power sockets, etc., isn't a habitable room, "because we only have a drop-down ladder to it". What they have is a room in the roof with an inadequate means of access and escape.
Assuming it is an unauthorised conversion, the issues with what you describe are: a) structural - was a proper floor installed and was any support for the roof adversely affected by a conversion? b) is there insulation and proper ventilation to the underside of the roof? From your description it's unlikely that the means of escape can't be surmounted. If the stairs at ground floor aren't open plan, then the existing doors could be replaced with fire doors, and a detection system installed.
Talk to Building Control. They'll know if it's been a legitimate conversion. It's very unlikely that they would cause problems for the existing owners if the work has been carried so long ago, and as for insurance; you're really into conspiracy theory territory if you imagine that Building Control have access to any insurance database- most BCs don't have access to their Planning's database!
Throw it back to your seller. Get them to apply for a Regularisation Certificate (subject to the dates above). Even if it can't be fully approved, at least you would have an idea of what's wrong.
--
Hugo Nebula
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Hugo Nebula wrote:

You do know the a bed was moved from there before you arrived.
--
Adam



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ARWadsworth wrote:

Ha - I've been to see a house where there was a ladder to a "loft conversion" and the bed was still there! To be fair the bloke did not claim it was a bedroom on paper and said they'd strengthened the floor for a bit of extra space, but had not completed the full range of required conversion required.
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Tim Watts

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