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When your house is more than just your home…

This article was first published in Rural magazine.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw my family, like many others in Jersey, spending a lot more time together at home – much to the delight of our beagle, Emmy. Our living room became a classroom, the kitchen table an office.

The pandemic has caused a minor revolution in the way in which we all work and live. It has been proven that productivity can be maintained or increased with more flexibility on when and where we work. This could see more of us continuing to spend at least part of our working life at home.

For many of us, this is the first time we’ve had to work from home and the need to adapt our homes to be as convenient and productive as possible has become more urgent. This could be through converting a spare bedroom into an office, or building a shed in the garden for extra space.

However, for larger renovations, such as an extension, it’s important to consider the legality of what you wish to achieve, what rules govern what you can and cannot build, and where, and whether or not permission might be required.

In Jersey there are customary law rules in relation to the boundaries to a property which might restrict what you can do. For example, when building on a jointly owned boundary you may only build up to the middle line of the boundary; nothing is permitted past that line, including any guttering or fascia boards. It may also be the case that you don’t have a right to go onto a neighbour’s property to repair a wall. Furthermore, unless your purchase contract states otherwise, windows or air vents must be set back from a boundary by at least 2 feet 9 inches. If you fail to do this then your neighbour can insist they are removed or, in the case of a window, frosted and made non-opening.

Property rights and boundaries are not really considered by Planning and Building Control when reviewing an application. It’s up to each property owner to ensure they understand and comply with their legal obligations when submitting plans. It’s important, therefore, that owners understand the rights and obligations attaching to their land.

Some works to some properties are allowed to be undertaken without an application having to be made to the Planning Department. Owners should be very clear as to whether the works they wish to undertake fall within the scope of the Planning and Building (General Development) (Jersey) Order 2011. A breach of planning law could see you having to spend more on applying for retrospective consent and expose you to the risk of being fined for having carried out the works without consent. The worst-case scenario, you could have to pay to undo everything you have just paid to do.

It’s also really important to make sure that any agreements reached with neighbours are properly recorded. Often issues only come to light when an owner decides to sell their home and the purchaser’s lawyer attends on site and notes a legal problem with work that has been carried out on the property and not properly recorded in the contractual documents. Remedying this can be very costly as a contract might have to be drawn up and passed before the Royal Court to clarify the position (if the neighbour agrees to remedy it, otherwise it may be that the works done will need to be undone before the property can be sold). It’s really important to understand that just because your neighbour agrees with you ‘over the fence’ that you may carry out works, this will not be binding in the future. The only way for a neighbour to agree legally is for them to be party to a contract passed before the Royal Court confirming their agreement.

Often a house on an estate or an apartment will have restrictions about what can or cannot be done in the property, some may include not being allowed to run a professional workshop or business from a property. The wording of a restriction or rule may allow someone to work in a ‘liberal’ profession, which is legal speak for ‘working quietly’ meaning that working on a laptop at the kitchen table is permitted. If you’re thinking of making structural changes to your property so as to permanently set up shop from your home, that may not be allowed.

As we move into a brave new world of (at least partial) home-working, it is understandable that we will want to make our home-working environments comfortable and practical. It is important to be sure that you are entitled to do the works which you want to. If you are not sure, you should seek advice; not doing so could be a costly error.

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