Can we change layout of second-hand apartment?

We’ve bought a second-hand apartment and we’d like to reconfigure the layout, but we’ve been told that we can’t because the changes would affect the building’s fire certification. Is this true? If so what can we do?

Apartment layouts are generally similar to one another with an entrance hallway as the main artery, while the living room, bedrooms and bathrooms lead off this. It is often nice in theory to undertake some reconfiguration of the original format to better suit the needs of residents.

Assuming the alterations you are proposing consist of internal reconfiguring work (non-structural alterations) to the apartment and do not intensify the use of the apartment (e.g. forming additional bedroom), then subject to certain conditions I would be of the opinion that you would be permitted to undertake such works.

However, it is worth noting that any works proposed to the exterior of an apartment building would require planning permission.

Coming back to your proposal to undertake alterations to your apartment layout, I recommend that you consult with the management company for the development to seek approval for your proposed works and review your lease to ensure there are no clauses that could specifically restrict you from carrying out such works.

Consider occupants

It is also worth noting that you should consider the occupants in your apartment development and most especially the adjoining apartments above, below and to either side of your apartment when planning any works.

In considering the proposed works to your apartment the following is a brief list that you should consider:

– Engage with a chartered surveyor to inspect your apartment with a view to preparing a specification of alterations for the apartment.

– In altering your apartment layout it is important to fully maintain the “protected” entrance hallway as this enclosure (walls and doors) are generally fire rated.

– Do not interfere with structural walls/ floors as part of your proposed works.

– Investigate whether walls are “load bearing” prior to considering removing them.

– Consider your new floor finishes carefully to ensure that the floor finishes do not transmit more sound than the previous ones as this may cause nuisance to your neighbours. However, it is typically recommended that a “sound insulating” layer be incorporated beneath any new floors.

– Prepare a brief proposal for your proposed works and submit to your management company for review and approval.

– Do not alter the fire detection systems, emergency lighting installations, sprinkler systems in your apartment. Where works are proposed to these then it is advisable to engage with the management company’s installer of these systems.

Duration

As part of your proposal to the management company you should detail the duration of the proposed works, the access and exit routes proposed to be used in order to facilitate the works. It may be a requirement from the management company that you incorporate protection measures to the common areas so as not to cause damage to these parts and, in particular, the use of the lift for carrying up and down materials may not be permitted.

If during the alterations you encounter breaches in fire safety measures in your apartment again consult with your management company and chartered surveyor with a view to implementing a repair proposal.

As with all construction works, ensure to engage with a competent and professional building contractor who has experience of working within an apartment complex and who carries the required insurance cover. Your contractor will have to prepare a health and safety method statement for the proposed works and as part of this they should scan all walls, floors and ceilings to identify for concealed services, prior to the commencement of works.

And finally, it is always good to talk to your neighbours in advance of undertaking works in an apartment development.

Andrew O’Gorman is a Chartered Building Surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

 

Members of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland answer questions from the public on their property in a weekly column called The Property Clinic run by The Irish Times. To view more articles, please visit The Irish Times website here.