It may be tempting to go ahead with alterations to your flat to avoid paying what can seem like large fees to freeholders, but beware, it can and is likely to backfire.
Imagine you are the freeholder or a fellow leaseholder. Isn’t it reassuring to know that any major works in neighboring flats will be done professionally and meet Building Regulations standards?
And if the lease says you need to seek permission, then you really should do so. After all, the freeholder, your landlord, cannot withhold permission unreasonably, or levy unreasonable costs.
If you undertake works without a license to alter and they are not up to standard, you can be required to put them right and, should structural works affect other flats, you could be facing a huge bill.
And even if nothing happens, if you sell the flat this is likely to be discovered and you may be liable to have to pay the freeholder’s administration charges and professional fees, such as surveyors fees, anyway. You can obtain a retrospective license, but you are not then likely to be in a good negotiating position at that point. The ultimate penalty is that you could risk forfeiting your flat.
The sort of works for which you would reasonably expect a lease to require a license to alter include structural alterations – such as the removal of chimney breasts, load bearing walls or creating openings within walls – changing windows, adding or moving a wet area such as a kitchen or bathroom, installing air vents to reduce condensation in older buildings, or upgrading the heating system or boiler (which may also call for external vents and condensate drains).
Even changes in floor coverings are also commonly included in the list of alterations that require a licence, as they can affect noise levels if the wrong flooring is laid. An extreme example of this was the hapless El Kerrami family could have saved themselves a £100,000+ bill for damages, on top of the costs of first fitting and then ripping out and replacing their new floor, if they’d realised the risks and heeded their lease.
When is consent required?
Most leases will contain one or more of three provisions:
- An absolute covenant prohibits the alteration absolutely.
- A qualified covenant prohibits alterations without the landlord’s consent;
- A fully qualified covenant provides that the alteration may only take place with the landlord’s consent, which must not be unreasonably withheld.
If the lease says nothing about alterations then leaseholders should therefore be free to carry out the alterations as they choose, but common sense should prevail when structural work is involved. Do consult a surveyor.
Find out more about charges involved in obtaining a licence to alter here
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