A lawful development certificate is normally issued by a local authority to prove that any development on local land has been done lawfully. This is not the same as planning permission but is proof that your building work is lawful. If planning permission has already been granted before a development has taken place and the development built in line with the planning permission granted then there is no need for such a certificate. Because this is generally the case, a lawful certificate is rarely needed.
However there are obviously exceptions to this rule. If someone is purchasing a property that does not have planning permission but they wish to develop the land then they may well want a certificate of lawful development before the purchase. They can also be useful if an extension has been built on a property that has not obtained the correct planning permission to do so. Instructing a solicitor to deal with these legal negotiations is paramount to save both time and financial risk.
So when would you need a Certificate?
The main reason for acquiring a certificate is that once you have it, no enforcement action can be taken over any planning permission breach that might occur. For example if the property that you were purchasing had always sold hot food and you wished to use it for the same commercial enterprise, you would not be able to continue in the same vein if the previous occupier had never had permission from the local authority to do so. Therefore you would be risking your investment. So as a buyer you can insist that the seller provides a certificate of lawfulness to prove the commercial viability of a building or piece of land.
Consequently a certificate of lawfulness is useful when either buying or selling any property. It provides an assurance to the buyer that enforcement proceedings will not be brought against them in relation to the particular issue that the certificate upholds. It is up to the buyer to make the final judgement call when it comes to the purchase, as they may well decide that it is a bad investment and far too risky.
It is also important to note that if the seller has been using the property for the wrong reason for five years or so then they will be unable to obtain a certificate of lawfulness. Local authorities have placed a ten year cap on breach of permission, which means that even if a property has been used unlawfully for over ten years they will not necessarily award a certificate of lawfulness, after all there may well be a very good reason as to why planning restrictions were put there in the first place. Whilst it should generally be possible to decide if a proposed project qualifies as permitted development there are inevitably going to be circumstances when this is less clear.
Harry Price is a writer who lives on the south coast. From his garden, he has amazing coastal views. He loves to take his laptop out there on a nice day and work. It’s the best office in the world!