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Construction in apartments: Oliver’s story Part 2

So as you may recall I was having some issues renovating my apartment.

You can check out the details here, but here’s a basic recap. I’m Oliver and I just bought a repossessed flat with a mortgage (obtained through Coreco thankyouverymuch). The flat was a total mess, so we’re redoing the whole place with some contractors. This includes replacing some windows with sliding doors and extra support for the new bedroom ceiling. We were nearly done when a neighbour sent messages to us and the rest of the building suggesting we were putting over people’s’ homes in jeopardy!

This neighbour – who claims to be an ex-city planner – told us we needed planning permission for the windows (which our architect assured us we didn’t) and building control permission for the bedroom (we’ll get to that later).

Planning permission focuses largely on aesthetic changes to the building that would affect your community. Remodelling your house into a giant, cawing crow might be your dream home but will have a significant effect on the surrounding area. Building control is different, however. They are there to confirm that what you are planning is safe and won’t, for instance, take down the whole building.

We were confident about building control because we had previously spoken to a structural engineer (recommend you do this for any major works you have). Upon hearing our desire to add extra support for the new bedroom ceiling, they let us know we wouldn’t need permission from Building Control as long as we built the design they gave us. In retrospect, I should have been there to ensure the contractor would follow this design. It turned out the contractor had decided that he had a better idea for the support we had requested: one that was safer and he wouldn’t even charge for the extra costs (I’m pretty sure he will find a way). That’s all well and good, but the method he used meant that now we did indeed need Building Control permission!

Luckily, Building Control permission can be obtained after construction has started. Unluckily, it’s a long process and we needed it fast! We hired a private building control company for the sake of haste. While the contractor seemed to have good intentions, he really caused us some trouble. Our desperation was quelled when he told us that he had taken pictures of his process throughout the build. This meant when the private building controller came to look, they might not need to open up the wall to inspect the build.

Building control is important because when it comes to selling, a savvy agent or buyer will ask if we had permission for the work we’ve done. If it turns out permission was necessary and we didn’t have it, we would expect a much lower offer for the flat. With a sigh of relief powerful enough to intimidate three little pigs, we were approved by building control. We didn’t even need to tear down the walls, which is a sentence that always feels good to say. That only left the planning permission people.

After arguing a lot based on the information we obtained from our architect, we would do our own research to put this problem to rest. Well you probably saw this coming, but it turns out our neighbour was correct. We did indeed need planning permission, which was embarrassing for all sorts of reasons: not least that we hadn’t done the research earlier. An equally embarrassed architect came to help get our planning permission approved, which, as luck would have it, can also be approved after work has begun. This was a nerve-wracking time because if the planning permission were denied then all the work we had done so far would need to be undone. This would have been costly even if we hadn’t already bought big sliding doors.

But the planning permission came through and we were all approved. This might sound like a happy ending, but the reality is we have been so close to breaking point for so long, that it was difficult to get excited about our move. Having not one, but two professionals cause us grief like this not only put our schedule back, but cost us a lot of money and possibly ruined our relationship with our neighbours.

It’s important to me to have a good relationship with our neighbours so I swallowed my pride and apologised to everyone – probably one of the first sincere ones I’d given them. Despite the fact that having planning permission didn’t really affect the construction of the sliding doors, everyone felt better knowing it was all above board. I even decided, since the flat is finally done, that I would have a house-warming party with the neighbours: more of a ‘let’s start over’ party really. I got to know a few of the neighbours and they got to know a side of me that wasn’t stressed out and bitter – a description that fit me like a glove for the previous 6 months. We’re all good now, I think, and having seen the inside of our place I think they can all understand how much work must have gone into it. Plus I’m pretty sure they’re jealous of our rockin’ sliding doors.

If we were to do it again, we’d try to be more organised when it came to the others involved in the construction. To start, we’d offer weekly update e-mails to neighbours to allow them to keep track of our work. I imagine this would reduce the number of messages we had coming in, all expecting our undivided attention. I’d also get more research done off my own back. Take my experience as a warning – you can’t always take other people’s word for it. Get their advice, take their opinion and then look it up yourself. It might seem like extra work but it’s nothing compared to what could happen if they got it wrong!

If you’re just getting started on construction where you live, I wish you the best of luck. Hang on in there, and just keep thinking about how totally sweet your new kitchen will look (especially with sliding doors).