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Doing building work on a leasehold property

31/05/2022

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Most owners pay little attention to the finer points of the ownership and title deeds of their properties. After all, that's what solicitors are for. However, if you’ve bought a flat for rent, for example, and are planning on making some improvements (as many of Philip Arnold’s customers are), it’s very important you check the lease documents first.

On very rare occasions, leases can even prevent you from making any alterations or improvements at all. A few more will have nothing to say on the subject, and in those circumstances, the leaseholder will not need to ask the landlord for permission before commencing work. Mostly, however, a lease will contain restrictions on the extent of any alterations or improvements that can be made without the landlord or freeholder’s permission. These generally include things like moving or removing walls, moving or installing a bathroom or kitchen in another part of the property or making any kind of structural alterations. They don’t normally include painting or redecorating, although installing hard flooring and/or removing carpets can often be restricted.

Requesting a landlord’s consent is not just a matter of making a phone call or writing an email. If the work is extensive, the landlord may employ their own surveyors and/or structural engineers and solicitors. If the work is structural, those surveyors may also be tasked with preparing a schedule of condition for the other flats in the block. For any such work, plans would almost certainly need to be submitted and then approved by the landlord; the permission subject to compliance with building regulations and planning control, including special obligations for conservation areas and listed buildings. There may also be a requirement to adhere to Party Wall legislation and to consider whether anyone’s rights are affected (either under their lease or, for example, rights to light). A landlord, naturally, will want to minimise his exposure to a claim by any other lessees or neighbours. They may also seek the payment of a premium.

If permission was not sought before the work was carried out, the leaseholder usually has very little leverage to negotiate retrospective consent without higher legal fees and, potentially, the payment of a premium to the landlord as well as his costs. They will also be in breach of their lease and, there is the possibility this could result in a costly Leasehold Valuation Tribunal and/or Court proceedings. In extreme cases, this can even result in the forfeiture of the lease.

Mostly, though, owners are blissfully unaware they have breached the terms of their lease by making simple improvements or alterations to their property. The only time they find out is when they try to sell it. What usually happens is that the owner puts it on the market, finds a buyer and then instructs solicitors. It is only then it emerges alterations or improvements have been made without the landlord’s consent. As a consequence, the sale gets delayed, and the vendor has to go back to the landlord to ask for retrospective consent, which he does not have to give and can prove costly. If the situation is not resolved, the flat will probably have to be sold for a lower price.

So, if you’re not sure if your proposed work qualifies for consent under the lease, just ask your solicitor. It won’t take five minutes to ping them an email and it will be a whole lot cheaper and easier than dealing with the consequences of failing to get the right permissions.

If you’re thinking of buying a new home or are looking for an investment opportunity, why not take a look at what’s on offer at our next auction at Phillip Arnold Auctions.

 

The information we provide is our personal opinion and should not be relied upon for legal advice. Should you need legal advice or guidance please contact an appropriate professional.