Can I sell a listed property which was changed without approval decades ago?

I have inherited a listed cottage which was changed without listed building consent in the 1980s. Can I sell the place?
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Question: I have been left a Grade II-listed cottage in someone’s will — but the inheritance is turning into a bit of a poisoned chalice. The old chap who left me the property bought the place in 1987 and gutted the downstairs and moved the staircase. I’d like to sell the house, but he got no listed building consent from the council. As it was so long ago, am I in the clear?
Answer: Enforcement action can still be taken. If the property was listed when the works were carried out in 1987, it is very likely to have required consent.
A surveyor experienced in listed buildings can advise if an application for retrospective listed building consent is likely to succeed.
If the surveyor feels that it may be granted, make an application so that the current situation where you have unauthorised works is rectified before you try to sell.
But if the surveyor considers it unlikely that you will be able to get retrospective consent, you can take out indemnity insurance, which can then be offered to a future buyer.
However, if that buyer wishes to carry out further works to the property that, again, are likely to require consent, then indemnity insurance may not be appropriate,  as the cover may be affected in such circumstances.
In your case, building regulation and planning consent are not a concern.
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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually but we will try to feature them here. Fiona is legal director in the real estate group of Foot Anstey LLP in Exeter (
These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.

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