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The Diary of an Anonymous Architect #8

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The latest in an ongoing series about the day-to-day travails of an embattled practitioner. This week: House for Sale

‘With time, care, cash, peace, love and understanding it can be as good as new…….’ Nick Lowe

A clear, starry sub-zero night…perfect for driving home from a site visit.

Then a surprise.  A long-standing landlord client drops me a line about a letter he has just received from Environmental Health concerning a lovely cottage he’s rented out, problem free, for 15 years. EH had apparently been contacted by the tenant about the property while the landlord was away.  The letter required a long list of works completed if it was to continue as a rental. New to me. 

Works required are comprehensive, the existing deemed inadequate

We’d been involved in minor upgrades, nothing significant – so I called Building Control. I thought works to properties flowed from planning or building regs applications. If works are extensive enough it might trigger other improvements, but here EH is demanding works to a property which has provided comfortable accommodation for years.  

Works required are comprehensive, the existing deemed inadequate.  Building Control said they wouldn’t insist in the circumstances as nothing had changed for the worse. 

Called EH to discuss the comments from BC.  All irrelevant - under the Housing Act EH departments have jurisdiction.  Apparently if they’re called to a property for any reason however innocent or justifiable that triggers an inspection based on a check-list of about 30 points.  Shortcomings have to be made good no matter what. So new fire precautions, new escape routes, insulation, glazing, electrics and so on.  Their list makes the cottage sound ropey, it isn’t. Both EH and the fire officers I then met on site said it was a credit to the landlord.  It will be on the market soon – the costs of the work would take years to recover from the rent.

The costs of the work would take years to recover from the rent

So we have two departments with responsibilities for the nation’s property. One specialist, experienced, interpreting considered regulations based on that experience to provide robust realistic outcomes. The other more generalist dealing with all sorts of property and other issues but utterly inflexible – perhaps because they have so many other important matters to deal with?

Having two departments responsible seems difficult enough to understand but reconciling their distinctly different approaches even more so.  The Environmental Health approach could spark a bonanza for the construction industry. 

Then just like London buses, along comes another shocker……

The EH approach could spark a bonanza for the construction industry

A contractor is handed a letter for the client by a council official. Environmental Health again.  A former cottage adjoining an industrial building is being converted back to residential – with recent planning and building regs approvals. The letter says the development is unacceptable as the property is condemned and unfit for habitation. Somewhat alarming.

Phone calls ensue – it turns out the house was condemned over 50 years ago. It was absorbed into the industrial complex until the recent application for change of use to residential. 

The property is still listed unfit and work must stop

We referred EH to the recent approvals. All irrelevant - on their files the property is still listed unfit and work must stop.  After having taken a hard line an EH official then suggested they could raise paperwork to update their records to make the problem disappear…..  Would have been good if they spoke to their planning colleagues before shooting from the hip - as consultees shouldn’t they have been alerted to the flaw in their files long before they hand delivered their letter?

In our local caff – four Environmental Health stars for food hygiene - I pondered this duplication of building control and remembered my favourite lawyer Alan Shore quoting his mother - ‘This doesn’t smell right…. and I’m not going to eat it…….’ 


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Seems to me that EH are following the entire philosophy of this government; do what you feel like and hang the consequences!

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