Gibraltar has an ever-strengthening property market with more and more individuals taking a bite at the property development cherry – something which was once considered to be only Government or wealthy investors’ territory.
This interest is more than likely due to the high real estate prices we are experiencing in Gibraltar; individuals finding themselves unable to afford even the first step onto the property ladder, and, as a result, becoming more commonplace for individuals to take on development and renovation projects themselves. Gibraltar’s old town is a perfect example of this, albeit not the only area of Gibraltar experiencing such development. It is also increasingly popular for property owners to re-model their current properties to maximise the value of their property before selling, allowing them to upgrade to a larger or better located home for their needs.
In both instances, structural work is highly likely to be undertaken and there are many important steps to follow when doing so.
There appears to be a wide misconception amongst the general public that permission from the Development and Planning Committee (DPC) is the be all or end all. In fact, different building works require different planning applications and different permits.
Building Control is part of The Department of Town Planning and Building Control but works independently of the Town Planning Section in undertaking this function.
Both sections work under different Acts:
Planning: Town Planning Act 2018
Public Health Act 1954 Sections 44 to 55.
The primary function of the Building Control service is to protect people’s health and safety in the built environment and issue the requisite Certificate of Fitness for completed compliant works in accordance with The Public Health Act Section 55.
Before undertaking any house renovation or development works, owners need to obtain the necessary and relevant planning permits. These are:
Building Control (for any internal layout alterations which would include the replacing of Fire Doors with non-compliant ones and structural works);
Town Planning AND Building Control (for any works involving the external works of the property / change of use / structural and alterations of the internal layout of the premises, which would include the replacing of Fire Doors);
Notwithstanding the above requirements the Management Company is required to be advised of the proposed works as it may be required by the terms of the lease.
Once works applied for, permissions issued and are satisfactorily completed, a Certificate of Fitness is issued.
Many properties contain restrictions within the lease stating that consent from the management company is required if making alterations to the property. This means that despite a planning or building application being approved by DPC / Building Control, the management company could reject or prevent works being undertaken as doing such works could be a breach of the lease.
The onus is always on the owner/developer to obtain the required permits and to ensure the building is safe, however Building Control ensures that the new build is structurally sound and compliant with relevant Parts of the Building Rules in order to be occupiable.
The following require an application to be submitted:
• Removal of original Fire Doors
• Alterations to the Fire Alarm System
• Alterations to the Electrical installation
Removal / alteration of partitions – alteration to flats / house layout / commercial units / offices
Removal / alteration of load bearing walls – alterations to flats / house layout / commercial units / offices
Installation of air conditioning units and associated works
In the event that the owner proceeds with such works without the management company consent, problems could potentially arise when looking to sell the property. Where there is a management company, the management company has to approve the sale of the property. In the event that works have been undertaken without the authorisation of the management company, such approval may not be granted meaning that the sale of the property would not be approved. It is therefore strongly recommended that the owner always seeks approval from their management company.
Certificate of Fitness
The Certificate of Fitness is a crucial document issued by Building Control when structural changes have been completed on a property. If there has not been a certificate issued when the owner comes to sell, the property may be considered “non-compliant”. Correcting this can cause significant delays and substantial cost to the sale of the property.
There are frequent cases where we have dealt with non-compliant properties, mostly being properties which have undergone building works without the proper permits. Common examples of these are where walls have been knocked down to maximise space e.g. maybe the partition walls between the kitchen, living room and hall wall have been removed to make an apartment open plan, or even just one wall or corridor has been removed to, say, increase the size of a bedroom.
If, when doing so, the proper permits are not obtained, the property may be non-compliant. When selling the property, the owners will need to produce a certificate of fitness and, should the necessary permits not have been granted, Building Control will be unable to issue such certificate. In this instance:
Best case scenario: a substantial delay whilst the owner retrospectively applies for planning permission, however, this will only be granted if the property complies with all building and safety regulations. Once retrospective permission is obtained and the property inspected a certificate of fitness would then be issued.
Worst case scenario: if the property is found to be non-compliant, the property owner will be required to undertake further building works, to make the property compliant, such as replacing the walls that have been removed, or replacing fire doors if these had been removed.
In some instances, the purchaser may agree to take on the responsibility to apply for retrospective planning permission or to undertake the works required him/herself and often a lower purchase price is agreed in order to cover this expense.
Banks and Borrowing
Another major blocker is that banks will generally not lend on a property unless there is a certificate of fitness in place. In some cases, if there is no certificate of fitness, banks may agree to lend on the condition that the purchaser provides an undertaking to the bank that he/she will undertake the building works required. The bank usually requests that this is done within 3 months of completion of the purchase of the property. Depending on the extent of building works and complexities involved, the time in which a certificate of fitness is obtained could be 3 months.
It is therefore very important that owners seek the proper permits before undertaking the initial building works to ensure that upon completion of works the certificate of fitness will be issued and that any additional costs or delays are avoided when it comes to selling.