Alterations in the Past

Consents Needed

  • Landlord's Consent
  • Listed Building Consent
  • Building Regulation Consent

Specific Examples

Bathroom

Changing bathroom suites

The listed building guidance rather unhelpfully says that “listed building consent is not normally required to change the bath, toilet, sinks or taps in your bathroom”. It doesn’t tell us what the abnormal situation requiring consent would be. But basically it seems that you can change all fittings, and install a shower instead of a bath, without needing listed building consent.

Clause 4 (6) of the standard Barbican lease requires that the flat owner will “not … remove any of the landlord's fixtures without the previous consent in writing of [the landlord".

All fitted kitchen or bathroom units, sinks, the Garchey system, basins, toilets and fittings are ‘landlord’s fixtures’.)

So you do need to get the Barbican Estate Office’s consent under the lease for changes, such as replacing sinks, baths and cabinets, and you may need building regulation approval for any changes to the plumbing.

Clause 4(5) of the Barbican lease says the flat owner must “renew or replace at any time … all landlord’s fixtures fittings and appurtenances in the premises which may be or have become beyond repair”.

So changing taps or shower fittings, for example, which wear out or cease to function properly would not require the Barbican Estate Office’s consent

Any works which involve altering the plumbing within the flat does not require building regulation approval. But any works which affect the stack or pipework within the common parts, or the connections to them, do require building regulation approval.

Retiling the bathroom

Original Barbican bathrooms are completely tiled in white tiles, with some specially moulded ones round the bath. These aren't specifically mentioned in the section of the listed building guidance, dealing with changes to bathroom suites. But the guidance does say that you can “install a shower instead of the bath”, and since you couldn't replace the bath without mucking up the tiles, it would seem that changing the tiles does not require listed building consent.

It would seem that it also does not require the Barbican Estate Office’s consent under the lease, because tiling is not a landlord's fixture (unlike the bath and the basin) and the restrictions on alterations in the lease do not apply to internal non-structural works of this sort.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes (but not for retiling only).
  • Building regulation approval: No, unless altertions or connections to the communal ducts and pipe work are involved.
  • Listed building consent: Depends on the exact proposed changes.
Carpets

Wooden flooring v carpets

Clause 4(5)(e) of the Barbican lease says the owner must “carpet all the floors in the premises from wall to wall”. The City broke that one themselves, because all the flats originally came with tiled bathroom floors and lino on the kitchen floors (although toilets did originally have carpets).

The Barbican Estate Office's policy now is that they won't actually give consent for wooden flooring, but equally they won't take action to require you to take it up again, unless they have a complaint from a neighbour about noise. So there is still the risk that you might have to put down carpeting.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Strictly yes, but they may turn a blind eye until there is a complaint.
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: No
Cupboards

Wooden flooring v carpets

Clause 4(5)(e) of the Barbican lease says the owner must “carpet all the floors in the premises from wall to wall”. The City broke that one themselves, because all the flats originally came with tiled bathroom floors and lino on the kitchen floors (although toilets did originally have carpets).

The Barbican Estate Office's policy now is that they won't actually give consent for wooden flooring, but equally they won't take action to require you to take it up again, unless they have a complaint from a neighbour about noise. So there is still the risk that you might have to put down carpeting.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Strictly yes, but they may turn a blind eye until there is a complaint.
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: No
Decoration

Internal doors. You can paint the internal doors as well.

The entrance door. Clause 4 (6) of the standard Barbican lease says that the owner shall “not decorate the exterior of the premises (including the exterior of any entrance door) … without the previous consent in writing of the [Barbican Estate Office].” So you can paint the inside, but you can't paint the outside of the entrance door. That has to be a consistent colour for the block, arranged by the Barbican Estate Office. They repaint every few years and the colour is usually chosen by a ballot of the residents of the block.

Walls. You can repaint and paper the walls of you flat in any way you want.

Window frames. For the same reason, you can re-varnish the interior of the frames of windows and frames, but you can't paint or varnish the exterior of the window frames, which is done for all flats periodically by the Barbican Estate.

(The listed building guidance says that owners are “encouraged” to retain the original hardwood finish of the interior window frames.)

Summary - Internal, like-for-like redecoration works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: No.
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: No
Doors

Replacing internal doors

You need listed building consent to replace any internal doors or partitions (including the sliding sections which many flats have in the kitchen area), and also to put in any new partitions or doors.

This may also require the consent of the landlord under the Barbican lease. It would not require building regulation consent.

If all you want to do is to repair a damaged door, you still technically require listed building consent. The planners will normally require you to ensure that the repairs are carried out so that the result is consistent with the original (in other words, so you can’t tell the difference).

You can't use a 'repair' as a back-door way of replacing the original with a door which is more to your taste.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Possibly
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: Yes
Electrics

Electrics

Building regulations approval is required for rewiring the flat or for any other electrical work.

Alternatively, a certificate of compliance by a suitably qualified electrician can replace the need for the usual building regulation consent from the council.

Works cannot be carried out to any electrical services which are common to the building because those belong to the estate.

Listed building consent and landlord’s consent are not required. No consent is needed to change any of the electrical fittings – e.g. light switches.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: No
  • Building regulation approval: Yes, but your contractor may be able to self-certify.
  • Listed building consent: No
Floors

Floors

Owners are not allowed to do any works at all to the floor involving tacks, nails or screws, including fixing down the strips to attach the carpets to. Clause 4(6) requires that the flat owner will “not … insert or drive nails or screws or sink plugs or make any fixing whatsoever to the floor of the premises.”

The very good reason for this is that you could pierce your flat’s under-floor heating pipes, which lie just under the surface of the concrete screed. Unfortunately, once under-floor heating has ceased to function, there's no easy way to renew it.

(See 'Carpets' for wooden floors)

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: Depends on the nature of the works.
Garchey

The Garchey system

Originally, every flat was connected to the garchey system (the estate-wide system for disposing of some rubbish via the kitchen sink).  If you want to take it out, you need permission from the Barbican Estate Office under the terms of the Barbican lease, and it must be done in an approved manner, supervised by them.

It's a technical thing, which normal plumbers won't necessarily know how to do properly.

Colin Iffland, the Garchey Manager, has been dealing with the system for many years (and his father before him, I believe) and can advise on any garchey issues.

You don't need listed building consent or building regulation approval to take out the garchey.

In the past, many flat owners have taken their garchey out - with or without the Barbican Estate Office’s consent. It's got to the stage now that if any more were to be taken out, it might jeopardise the functioning of the entire system. I believe no consent will now be given to remove garcheys from tower block flats.

If you have trouble with a disconnected garchey because smells blow back through the system, the Barbican Estate Office can handle that for you by adding a gizmo to the pipework. This operates a bit like the U-bend in a toilet to prevent smells from the system getting back into the flat.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: No
Immersion Heater

Changing the immersion heater

You do not need any consents.  In fact, the Barbican lease specifically requires you to replace equipment which fails. Clause 4(5) of the Barbican lease says the flat owner must “renew or replace at any time … all landlord’s fixtures fittings and appurtenances in the premises which may be or have become beyond repair”.

The Barbican Estate Office do give general guidance. The replacement must be able to withstand at least the same head of water pressure as the existing heater. The water heater to the kitchen is normally fed by mains water pressure, and must be vented separately. The current arrangement is that it vents through the taps to the sink. You mustn’t fit an unvented water heater.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: No
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: No
Kitchen

Changing the fitted kitchen units

Clause 4 (6) of the standard Barbican lease requires that the flat owner will “not … remove any of the landlord's fixtures without the previous consent in writing of [the landlord]. (All fitted kitchen or bathroom units, sinks, the garchey system, basins, toilets and fittings are ‘landlord’s fixtures’.)

So, under the terms of the Barbican lease, you do need the Barbican Estate Office’s consent to strip out or replace the kitchen units, cabinets, sinks and worktops, but you don't need building regulation approval. The listed building guidance confirms that you also don't need listed building consent. No consent is required to change kitchen appliances.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: No
Planters

Planters on the balcony

Putting plant pots and tables and chairs on the balcony doesn't require any consent, but there are some qualifications to this. Although the balcony may be included in the premises you own, your lease says you must keep it clear of obstruction, because the balcony also serves as part of the fire escape for everyone on your floor.

Clause (2) of the Sixth Schedule of the standard Barbican lease says “The tenant will not obstruct any balcony forming part of the premises (including any dividing doors or screens), nor place anything there which might be or become a danger, nor do or permit anything which might impede escape from the premises or other premises in case of fire or other emergency”

You are not allowed to get rid of the standard Barbican window boxes and planters. They are covered by the listing of the Barbican just as much as the structure of the buildings themselves. If a planter is broken, you can replace it by getting an identical copy from the Barbican Estate Office.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes for changing the planters, or any other external changes.
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: Yes for changing the planters, or any other external changes.
Plumbing

Plumbing

You have to get approval under the Barbican lease from the Barbican Estate Office for new plumbing, including pipework which is actually in your flat, and which exclusively serves your flat.  You also need building regulation approval.

No work can be carried out to any plumbing services which are common to the building. Those belong to the estate.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: Yes
  • Listed building consent: Usually not, but it would depend on the nature of the changes.
Satellite Dishes

Satellite dishes

Putting up a satellite dish, or anything else to the exterior of the building, would require the landlord’s consent under the lease. Clause (9) of the Sixth Schedule of the Barbican lease says: “The [flat owner] will not … place or fix or suffer to be placed or fixed upon the exterior of the premises any wireless or television aerial.” Listed building consent would be required. The listed building guidance says that such alterations are “discouraged” and would only be given consent in “very special individual circumstances”. It's not clear what those might be.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: You need to check.
  • Listed building consent: Yes
Skirting Boards

Removing the skirting boards

Every flat has a distinctive tiny skirting board, almost let into the wall. You actually can't cut that out without first getting listed building consent and the Barbican Estate Office’s consent. They regard that as an important feature of the flats to be protected, so you won't get consent for it.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: Yes
Sliding Screens

Removing sliding screens

You need the landlord's consent, but not building regulation consent. It will require listed building consent to remove or alter any internal walls or partitions in your flat, such as those to your kitchen or living area, or the removal of bedroom walls to create a larger living area.

This includes sliding doors and partitions. Each case is judged individually on its own merits. You will also need listed building consent to erect any new internal partition wall.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: Yes
Stairs

Altering stairs

You need the landlord's consent, but not building regulation consent. The duplex type of flat has an internal staircase. The City’s planners responsible for listed building consents will almost certainly refuse any application to change or replace that.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: Yes
Terrace

Glazing a terrace

Putting a glazed roof on a roof terrace, or adding glazing to make your terrace into a kind of conservatory, would definitely require listed building consent and landlord's consent under the Barbican lease. The Barbican lease itself is quite lax on this. Most modern leases would absolutely forbid any works to the exterior or structure of a flat, but the Barbican lease only says that any external or structural works require the landlords’ consent - and if the works would be an ‘improvement’, they can only refuse consent on reasonable grounds.

Some did slip through in the past before the Barbican was listed - you can make out a few of them on the outline of the tower blocks - but the planners would now almost certainly refuse listed building consent for any such works. The listed building guidance says: “Individual alterations to the roof line or frontages of buildings and balconies would disturb the appearance of the whole building and are therefore unlikely to be acceptable. Such an alteration  requires listed building consent and planning permission and would normally be resisted.”

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: Yes
  • Listed building consent: Yes. Also planning permission. Good luck trying.
Ventilation Systems

The ventilation/extraction system

Most Barbican flats are provided with a ventilation/extraction system designed to take stale air out of the kitchen and bathroom areas where there are no windows. This is a communal system for the building. Legally you can't carry out any works to the system itself because that lies behind the walls of the flat and belongs to the estate.

The Barbican lease does not deal explicitly with internal works to the communal ventilation/extraction system. The nearest reference is that clause 4(6) says that the flat owner shall “not … cut injure alter or divide the premises or any part thereof”.

But the Barbican Estate Office position is that flat owners must obtain their approval before they replace or cover up the extraction vents because flat owners’ works can create an imbalance in the system.

It is a balanced system and if individual flat owners muck about with their end of it, it can make the system work less effectively for the rest of the block, and even lead to smells being blown into flats, not just extracted out of them.

Works to the ventilation/extraction system are not mentioned in the listed building guidance. So, for any work carried out since 2001, there should either be a listed building consent or written confirmation from the City that it was not required.

If the ventilation has been closed off without touching the vents and equipment itself (by sticking a cupboard in front of it, for example) the Barbican Estate Office would still expect to be consulted (for the reasons already explained). But you don't need listed building consent or building regulation consent to put something in front of a vent in that way.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: Yes
  • Listed building consent: Possibly, depending on nature of the work.
Walls

Removing, adding or altering walls or sliding screens

You need the landlord's consent, but not building regulation consent.

It will require listed building consent to remove or alter any internal walls or partitions in your flat, such as those to your kitchen or living area, or the removal of bedroom walls to create a larger living area.

This includes sliding doors and partitions. Each case is judged individually on its own merits.

You will also need listed building consent to erect any new internal partition wall.

You cannot make any holes in the concrete walls, or even cut channels for wiring. Although re-wiring does not strictly require consent, you still have to operate within the existing conduits.

Therefore, most new wiring will have to be in surface mounted cables.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: No
  • Listed building consent: Yes
Windows

Changing windows

Listed building consent - and, in fact, planning permission as a separate item as well - would be required to replace external windows. You would be unlikely to get consent. The listed building guidance says: “Consent [to replace windows] would only be granted in the most unusual circumstances. Any alterations to windows, such as secondary glazing, will require consent and each case would be judge on its merits.”

If you want to add secondary glazing in a way which is fixed to the window, that would also require listed building consent and the landlord’s consent under the lease.

Summary - These works require:

  • Landlord’s consent: Yes
  • Building regulation approval: Yes. The glazing has to be certified as complying.
  • Listed building consent: Yes. Also planning permission.

Problems

problems

“Drop that non-compliant plastic piping and come quietly, Barbican resident.”

Why it matters if necessary consents were not obtained in the past

Breaking listed building rules. If works which required listed building consent have been carried out without consent, the City can require them to be reversed. There is no time limit. (It is also a criminal offence by the person who did the works illegally, but not a subsequent buyer).

Failure to obtain landlord’s consent. If works which required landlord’s consent have been carried out without consent, the Barbican Estate Office can require them to be reversed. Again, there is no time limit.

Failure to obtain building regulation approval. Strictly speaking, a council can only take action for breach of building regulations if they do it within one year of the date the works were completed. But that one year limit only applies to their normal enforcement procedure. They still have a right to go to court for an injunction, and that right has no time limit.

Why it is a problem for buyers

The buyers risk taking on a potential problem. The buyers can be made to put right things done wrong in the past – even though they weren’t the owners at the time.

It may affect future work they do. If they need a future approval, the Barbican Estate Office and the City will then see that unauthorised works have already been done and make an issue of it.

Lenders may not lend. Standard lenders’ requirements are that all consents for all works, however long ago, must be in place. Buyers’ solicitors will probably also be acting for the lenders. They will be under a duty to tell them about any lack of necessary consents or approvals. The lenders may insist that consents are obtained before they will lend the mortgage advance.

Problems selling. Buyers may have problems in selling the property themselves when the time comes, for the same reasons.

Solutions

  • Retrospective Consent
  • Indemnity Insurance
  • Taking a View

What an indemnity policy achieves

There are insurance policies you can take out to cover you and future owners against past failure to comply with requirements when works were carried out.

There is a one-off premium of (usually) a few hundred pounds.

It is not an automatic universal solution. A policy may not necessarily be available for every breach.

You can never get a policy if you have already told the City about the breach. The deal with policies is that you have to keep quiet about the breach, or the policy ceases to apply.

For cash buyers it is a choice whether to take out a policy. For anyone buying with a mortgage loan, the lenders will almost certainly insist on a policy for any past breaches (except of course for breaches which have been put right by a retrospective consent).

Why it may not satisfy buyers

An indemnity policy doesn’t really address the practical issue. A policy may cover any loss of value of the flat due to the City finding out about unauthorised building works and taking some action as a result. But the practical issue in a Barbican flat isn’t a loss of value so much as the hassle factor in having to expose pipework for inspection, or the buyers having to convince their buyers to accept the situation when they sell, or the fact that the City might create difficulties about future works until the old works are put right.

Buyers want to feel they are being law abiding, not holding up two fingers to the City. They also want to know that the pipe work and the connections to the communal system were done properly because they will have to live with them, and secret unapproved works smack of gerry building and corner cutting. A policy doesn’t really meet those issues.

Other options

ostrich

Taking a view

‘Taking a view’ means accepting the situation and buying anyway without getting any retrospective approvals.

You might do this because:

  • you don’t think the particular problem with this flat is worth worrying about
  • you are going to redo the flat anyway as soon as you buy it, and the past works will be removed as part of the new works.
  • If you were required to put the breach right, you could live with that.