UK property law

I have recently bought a Victorian house in a conservation area. After moving in I discovered the astragals in the windows (the mouldings between the panes of glass) are just plastic strips. I peeled them off to reveal the windows are one big uPVC pane. Now my neighbour has complained to the council, thinking that I have installed the new windows myself. Could I be in breach of rules?

Strictly speaking, conservation area consent is only required for “substantial demolition” of a building. Yet homeowners living in a conservation area may need planning consent for work that they would ordinarily be able to do without permission, such as replacing windows. Check the rules with your council.

Could I be fined, even though it’s not my fault?

If planning consent is required for replacing windows in your area, then, as the current owner, you are responsible. Your local planning authority (LPA) could issue an enforcement notice, ordering you to restore the windows. If you don’t comply, you could be fined up to £20,000.

Is there a time limit for the council to act?

The LPA has four years from the date of the breach to issue an enforcement notice. Yet where a breach has been covered up (as in your case), the law on exactly when the clock starts ticking is less clear: the four years may have started when you peeled off the plastic or when the new windows were installed.

Should I just replace the windows?

Your LPA does not need to take action, and will consider whether it is in the public interest to issue an enforcement notice. Regardless of that, doing nothing may affect the resale value of your house. When buying a house in a conservation area, make sure your lawyers check any particular rules in the area and confirm there are no breaches. If any renovations were carried out without the required consent, you can ask the seller to get retrospective consent or to indemnify you against any future enforcement action.

Alexandra Cooke is a trainee solicitor at King & Wood Mallesons

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