Can I renovate my tired residential leasehold property?

With the rising costs of moving, many opt to stay and renovate rather than sell.  There is however, a common misconception that if you own a leasehold property you have the right to install a new kitchen or knock down a wall to improve living space without anyone’s permission.

Unfortunately that is not always the case and before you embark on renovating a leasehold property, whether it be a flat or house, you should check your rights and obligations to prevent unexpected costs coming your way!

How do I know whether I need permission to renovate?

Firstly, check your lease to see if you are allowed to make any alterations (some leases may stipulate you only need permission for major works involving the structure, plumbing or electrics; others may state you require permission for any work.)  If you do require permission, contact your freeholder and provide plans. Where landlord’s consent is required statute provides that this cannot be unreasonably withheld for improvements.

While you are checking your lease, you also need to check whether you need planning permission or listed buildings consent; and whether you need to inform the insurer for the building.

If you own a flat it’s also possible to own a share of freehold, which means you own the freehold with your neighbours. However, in these cases, the same rules apply and you need to check the terms of your lease to see whether permission is required and you need still to obtain the freeholder’s permission to carry out works.

Are there additional costs to pay?

Potentially, so it’s important to factor these in when budgeting for the project.

There is likely to be a clause in the lease that entitles the freeholder to recover its professional costs for considering your proposals before consent is granted, and assessing the work once it is complete. 

There may be administration fees in your lease for the freeholder to grant a Licence for Alterations.  If the freeholder employs a solicitor you may also have to pay those costs. All charges should be reasonable, so if the fees quoted seem extortionate, you can challenge them.

Do these rules apply if I want to extend the property?

The same rules apply. A loft conversion is a good example. If you live in a flat in a converted house you may have exclusive access to the loft and therefore make plans to convert it into a bedroom or living space. However, it’s important to remember that even though you have access to the space that does not necessarily mean that you own it. It would be prudent to seek legal advice as to the precise extent of your demise before venturing into the roof space to avoid a claim for trespass!

If you do not own the roof space, the owner may be willing to sell it to you.  A Deed of Variation should be entered into (this usually attracts a cost).

What do I do when the freeholder refuses consent to alter?

Seek legal advice!  There may be wording in the lease, or in statute, that assists your case.

What if I go ahead without consent?

If you renovate without consent from your freeholder, you could be forced to put the property back to how it originally and pay costs and legal fees for your breach of covenant.

The lack of consent cannot be avoided by selling because the buyer’s solicitors will, as part of the sale process, request evidence of the written consent from your freeholder for the alterations.

In addition to complying with your lease, always ensure that you comply with local planning laws to avoid a criminal prosecution.

If you would like to discuss your matter, our team of specialist landlord and tenant lawyers can advise you in relation to your particular circumstances.  For further information, please contact Gemma Richards.