Friday 28 August 2015

Historic mansions can clock up scary bills

Published 08/06/2014 | 02:30

Michael Brennan
Michael Brennan

Being the owner of a 'historic mansion' or heritage home does not necessarily have the elite status that one might think – there are as many as 40,000 houses of historic or national interest in the country as a whole.

No matter how beautiful a historic mansion or heritage home, it can be a major financial headache.

If a protected structure is endangered, your local planning authority can serve you with a notice to carry out any work that it considers necessary to protect the building. The work must be done within eight weeks of the date of the notice. Your planning authority can also serve a notice to require the 'restoration of character' of the protected structure.

As with any property, you might have to upgrade or renovate the building. This is not without its challenges. You will often have to hire specialist contractors because of the unique nature of the building. You should make sure that any such contractors are vetted for adequate public liability cover so they can pick up the tab for any damage they may inadvertently cause.

There are also insurance complications. If you own a historic property, you must understand what exactly you need to protect. These buildings can have a protected facade, interior or even a listed floor.

The Planning and Development Act 2000 is the framework legislation that places duties of care on those who own or occupy these buildings to ensure their historic features are preserved. It is important to remember that a protected structure is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view.

If you are the owner or occupier of a protected structure, you are legally obliged to prevent it becoming endangered – either through damage or neglect. So it's important to check out what you need to protect – and ensure your insurance policy covers it.

As a general rule of thumb, if your property is over 100 years old, you may need a specialist insurance policy. Remember, you will usually have to cater for higher than usual claims reinstatement costs in the event of a claim. Make sure your policy covers you for the full cost of rebuilding or reinstating your property should it be damaged.

You also need to give your contents a bit of extra thought. Most standard insurance policies cover 'run-of-the-mill' contents. But period properties can also contain the not so run-of-the-mill, such as fine art.

Finally, it is important that visitors to your property are aware of the environment – and act accordingly. Otherwise you could face a claim should a visitor become injured. Remember the law could be on your side if a visitor tries to make a claim after injuring themselves on your property. A recent legal development of note in the heritage sector was the court case in relation to Quin Abbey in Co Clare.

The premises had old and worn stones. An injury claim that arose following a fall was rejected because the fall was deemed to be unavoidable in a heritage building of this nature.

Modern building regulations could not apply as those entering the premises were made aware of the nature of its floors, stairs and lighting.

Michael Brennan is a business development manager with the specialist insurer Ecclesiastical Insurance Group.

Sunday Indo Business

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