4 Year Rule - When is Lawful Development Certificate needed?

Lawful Development Certificate

A lawful development certificate a.k.a. LDC is a legal document stating that a proposed or existing use of a building or project is permitted. In other words, it is proof that your project is legal under planning rules. If a Lawful Development Certificate is granted by your local planning authority, it means enforcement action cannot be carried out against your project’s development. For example if you have done a flat conversion or an extension to your house and rented them for over 4 years, you can legalise this development with a Certificate of Lawfulness of existing use or development, as per the 4 Year Rule. Studio20 Architects can assist you in terms of avoiding the 4-year rule in planning enforcement.

Many home improvement projects can proceed without getting approval from the local planning authority. However, if you want to be 100 % certain that a project doesn’t require planning permission or that a proposed or existing use of a building is legal, you can apply for a Lawful Development Certificate.

When is Lawful Development Certificate needed?

Issues may arise when you want to sell your property if you had built an extension to your property without getting planning permission. It may be allowed under permitted development rights, which is a type of pre-authorized permission. However, the rules concerning permitted development rights are complicated and not always clear if you are not a professional. Therefore, if you want to remodel or extend your home under permitted development, it is beneficial to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate beforehand. If refused, does not necessarily mean you cannot proceed, it only indicates that planning permission may be required, or you may need to tweak the design to fit within the permitted development framework.

The Lawful Development Certificate is also useful if your home was extended without planning permission and you need to show a prospective purchaser that no enforcement action will be taken by the local authority in the current situation. The Lawful Development Certificate can be used as proof that development was substantially completed 4 or more years ago, so it is exempt from enforcement action. 4 years is the time limit within which local planning authorities can take enforcement action against the building which breaks planning rules. Therefore, timing is crucial in Lawful Development Certificate applications. If you apply too early, it could alert a council to an unauthorized development.

Existing buildings

The Lawful Development Certificate is also beneficial when confirming the existing use, or intensification of use, of a building is lawful. If an outbuilding converted into a home or garage into an annexe without planning permission, the change of use would be immune to enforcement action after 4 years in the case of a dwelling.

How do I apply?

You can apply to your local council for a Lawful Development Certificate via the Planning Portal, the online application service. If the Lawful Development Certificate application does not provide all the requested information, it may be refused. Therefore, accuracy is very significant in the Lawful Development Certificate applications.

What information do I need to provide?

The information you provide needs to include the reasons that justify your entitlement to a Lawful Development Certificate. It needs to include a plan identifying the land, a certificate to prove ownership or tenancy of the land, and interest of any third parties. If you apply for a certificate for an existing dwelling, you also need to provide evidence it was substantially complete more than 4 years before the date of the application. In the case of a change of use, proof that shows any use has been carried on continuously for 4 or more years needs to be presented. Proofs may be such as old utility bills, photographs, and sworn statements from third parties.


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How is it different from planning permission?

In some ways applying for a Lawful Development Certificate looks similar to submitting a planning application since both include plans drawn up, forms filled in, and an application fee paid. A key difference, however, is that a Lawful Development Certificate is merely concerned with the legality of a building, whereas planning permission involves consideration of other issues such as design and impact on neighbours. The issue of a Lawful Development Certificate depends entirely on factual evidence about the history of a building, planning status, and interpretation of any planning law or judicial authority. In complex cases, legal arguments tend to be complicated. Therefore, taking professional advice from a planning consultant to be confident about your application might be needed. Studio20 Architects gives such consultancies.

How much does a Lawful Development Certificate cost?

Applying for a Lawful Development Certificate for different purposes varies. While applying for a Lawful Development Certificate for proposed use or extension, costs half of the normal planning application fee, applying for a Lawful Development Certificate for an existing building or use costs the same as a full planning application according to the Planning Portal. If your Lawful Development Certificate is refused, there is a right of appeal just as how it is for Planning applications.


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