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What are the legalities of buying a listed building?

Buying a listed building can be rewarding, but it comes with unique legal considerations due to its historical or architectural significance.

You may be feeling confused as to what steps you need to take to successfully complete your purchase and what limitation will be placed on you as the property owner afterwards.

With our specialist guidance, you’ll be able to ensure that you are well-prepared for your new property and can make a purchase armed with the right knowledge.

What is a listed building?

Listed buildings, classified as Grade I, II*, or II, are protected under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.

In England and Wales, there are three categories of listed buildings:

  • Grade I (2.5% of listed buildings) – buildings of exceptional interest.
  • Grade II* (5.5% of listed buildings) – buildings of particular importance.
  • Grade II (92% of listed buildings) – buildings of special architectural or historic interest.

Owners are legally obliged to maintain their character and appearance. Any changes, even seemingly minor ones, require Listed Building Consent (LBC) from local planning authorities.

Conservation areas

To check whether the building you want to buy is in a conservation area, you should contact the local planning authority.

If the property is in a conservation area, you may have further restrictions. This could include the requirement to notify the local planning authority if you wish to cut down any trees, and restrictions when replacing doors or windows on the property.

Permitted Development rights also work differently in conservation areas. You may need to make planning applications for some forms of development, where you would not usually need to outside of a conservation area.

What costs could you incur?

Before buying, it’s crucial to commission a detailed survey by a specialist to identify potential issues that could incur significant costs and require specialist permissions.

Also, obtaining suitable insurance is a must as listed buildings often require specialist policies due to potential high repair costs using traditional methods and materials.


Renovation restrictions are a key legal aspect when buying a listed building. Unauthorised alterations can lead to criminal charges, including fines or imprisonment.

All modifications affecting the building’s character need prior LBC approval. Buying a listed building involves appreciating its charm and understanding your legal obligations.

Before purchasing a listed house, it is worth confirming what recent alterations or works have been conducted and confirm as part of the sales contract that these were conducted with the correct permissions.

When you purchase a registered historic structure, you also assume responsibility for any unauthorised modifications made by past owners.

Considering there is no statute of limitations for enforcement measures, you may be asked to restore the building to its original state.

Assuming you have conducted thorough inspections through your surveyor and solicitor during the purchase, and they’ve verified that all modifications have the proper permissions, there are specialist home insurance policies that can shield you from the expenses of correcting unauthorised changes, should they be uncovered later.

You should consult a solicitor and engage with a surveyor specialising in historic buildings to fully understand the responsibilities you’re undertaking.

If you need advice on your rights and responsibilities when buying a listed building, contact us today.

Elizabeth Jennings

Director - Commercial Property & Charities

I joined Mander Hadley in 2004, qualified as a solicitor in 2006 and have focussed on commercial law throughout. I am also a member of Coventry and Warwickshire First and Warwickshire Law Society.