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Suppose that someone buys a property which previously had a small derelict house on it, which the previous owner tore down before listing the property for sale. The previous owner claims that the building is below the 47m squared minimum under which a permit would be required.

If it were to be discovered later that the demolition was done unlawfully, would the new owner face consequences now that they are the owner of the property?

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  • I don't understand why you think you could be prosecuted for this any more than you could be prosecuted because the previous owner sold drugs or looked at kiddie porn or beat his wife in the house before you bought it.
    – bdb484
    Sep 28, 2023 at 16:54
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    @bdb484 In England a new owner could be liable for recitifying unauthorised works done to a listed building by the previous owner. The questioner should discuss their concerns with their solicitor and surveyor. There may be insurance policies that will cover the new owner for the liability if it is discovered in the future so long as the new owner was not aware of it before he bought it.
    – Lag
    Sep 29, 2023 at 7:29
  • I don't doubt any of that. I just don't see any possibility of the buyer being prosecuted for the owner's actions.
    – bdb484
    Sep 29, 2023 at 11:56

2 Answers 2

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The term "prosecuted" is used for criminal actions. I think its clear the new owner didn't do anything here, so they are not criminally responsible. They aren't going to jail.


"...would the new owner face consequences now that they are the owner of the property?"

Ownership means responsibility. If you are the owner of the property, you are responsible for maintaining it up to current rules. If the property is out of compliance (even due to a previous owner), you are responsible for bringing it back into compliance.

Recognizing the role of the prior owner, the town council (or whatever responsible body), would probably give you a notice and some leeway to come up with a plan. But if you aren't forthcoming with a corrective plan, or your plan is too slow or inadequate, they can escalate to fines, penalties, and even condemnation or seizure of the property. You won't be criminally prosecuted. But you cannot just claim "not my problem" either.

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  • How exactly can I bring it "up to current standards?" there was a small derelict and ruined farmhouse/dairy which the current owner tore down. I can't go about reassembling it brick by brick if the council decide in a year's time that it was a few metres above the required size to require a permit. What I'm asking is if as the current property owner, I would get slapped with a fine for something that happened before I took it over.
    – Chez_Swann
    Sep 28, 2023 at 15:00
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    @Chez_Swann "I can't go about reassembling it brick by brick" There is a precedent (from the year 2023) for a British town council ordering a property owner to do exactly that when a building was unlawfully demolished and it prevailed in having that order carried out.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/03/17/uk-pub-demolished-rebuild It isn't likely in this case, but it is within the realm of the possible.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 28, 2023 at 15:28
  • (I appreciate the responses by the way) yes but that pub was a listed (i.e. marked as historically important) building which was just torn down for no apparent reason. It became a national news story. This case is very different in a number of ways. As others have suggested I will speak to my solicitor (though they seem just as unsure on the exact legal point).
    – Chez_Swann
    Sep 29, 2023 at 15:09
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Liability as an owner is different from liability as an actor

Let’s assume that a permit was required.

If there is a fine for demolition without the permit then you would not be liable for that. However, the regulator may require you, as the current owner, to retrospectively obtain the permit and have any required inspections carried out at your expense. You could have a clause in the contract of sale where the previous owner indemnifies you against this but whether they will accept this or whether it can be practically enforced would be open questions.

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