If the local authority planning department find out about it then they may well make a visit to check if there has been a breach of planning law. If they consider that there is then they may well issue a planning enforcement notice asking for the changes to be rectified.
As a pre-emptive move you can make an application to the planning department for retrospective planning consent for the conversion. While they are considering your application they will not issue a planning enforcement notice. The planning department will be able to give you the applications forms and will require the application to be submitted with architect's plans indicating the extent of the changes.
If they refuse to grant retrospective planning permission for the conversion then you will be able to appeal the decision at the Planning Inspectorate. This is potentially quite expensive though.
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what if the changes were made a couple of years ago by a developer who has already sold the flats, and ou dont know what they have done behind the scenes
The developer would certainly have made sure to apply for planning permission, it makes absolutely no commercial sense for them to complete the conversion without first having obtained planning permission.
You should check the local authority planning website, a lot of the larger LAs have planning permission search engines for their borough. If not, you can simply give them (planning dept.) a telephone call to find out.
Where do you fit in to this? I had automatically assumed you were the owner of the freehold and had completed the conversion yourself.
Have you passed the conveyance of the property to your solicitor, or has the purchase completed?
The solicitor will certainly check the local search on the property as to planning and will likely raise any issues as a requisition with the sellers solicitor and report to you on any issues raised.
Your solicitor will no doubt raise the issue with the sellers' solicitor, they may be able to answer it satisfactorily. Press your solicitor to raise it with them immediately.
If there is a breach of planning control there are time limited in which the local planning authority must take enforcement action. In the case of building control or for changing the use of a building to use as a single dwelling house it's four years, in all other cases the time limit is ten years. This may be the seller's explanation, wait and hear what they have to say.
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