Answered: Everyday Questions About Leases
Every leasehold property has its own unique lease with its own covenants and regulations. However, there are also many similarities across leases that result in us being asked questions about leases that are common from property to property. In this blog post we cover some of those common questions and highlight some of the issues a leaseholder might want to consider. Of course, our suggestions below should never replace the act of studying the lease itself and where needed, seeking clarification from the freeholder or a solicitor.
Who am I paying my service charge to and what does it cover?
Service charges are payments by the leaseholder to the freeholder for all the services the freeholder provides. These will include maintenance and repairs, insurance of the building and, in some cases, provision of garden care, lifts, porterage, estate staff, lighting and cleaning of common areas etc. The service charge may also include a portion (or have an additional sum) that is paid into a reserve fund for larger works, such as replacement of gates or refurbishments of communal areas. Lastly, the property management company will also be paid their fee from the service charge which will represent a small percentage of the overall service fee paid.
Can I refurbish or change the layout of my flat?
In most cases, the lease will not automatically allow refurbishments that change the layout of the flat. Permission for these types of changes will need to be granted by the freeholder and possibly additional licenses required.
In certain cases, seemingly small layout changes may also not be allowed. For example, it’s not uncommon for a leaseholder to want to make some changes to their bathroom which may involve repositioning the sink, or bath or toilet. This might seem like a change that doesn’t require prior authorisation from the freeholder, but in many cases it will. For example, the new layout might require water and waste pipes to be repositioned above another resident’s bedroom which may create a new noise concern or flood risk.
Can I have a dog or other pet in my flat?
Many blocks of flats do not allow pets of any kind, others will allow pets on the condition that they do not cause annoyance to any other interested parties, such as other residents. The specifics will of course be detailed in the lease, but it is worth noting that if the lease doesn’t allow pets, this limitation doesn’t just apply to the more common pets such as cats and dogs, but would also apply to pets such as lizards, fish, birds, hamsters and the various other pet options. So, before you think about installing that tranquil fish tank, check your lease.
Of course, you can approach the freeholder to ask permission to have your pet as you may have specific circumstances that mean they will treat you as an exception.
Can I extend into my attic space?
If you occupy the top floor flat then your lease will stipulate whether you may extend into the attic space, though many will not allow it. There are numerous reasons why this may not be possible (irrespective of whether your lease allows it), such as whether the loft space has sufficient height and access, as well as what other communal services may be in the attic space such as a water tank, pipework and cabling. Access to those services would still need to be made available to any contractors that needed to make associated repairs or improvements. There is of course no harm in asking your freeholder what they might allow regarding the attic space. For example, it may be negotiated with the freeholder that you can extend into the attic space (relevant licenses allowing) if you then also take on permanent repair responsibility for the roof.
What are the common dos and don’ts I should be aware of?
It’s very easy to be in breach of your lease without knowing it by simply going about your everyday business as you might see it. Obviously, each lease is different, but here are some common examples:
- Drying washing: Some leases will stipulate that washing cannot be hung outside the property, for example, over the balcony.
- Use of the garden area: The lease may have strict limitations on the use of the grounds such as no walking on certain grassed areas.
- Children & playing: The lease may specifically state that children cannot play in the internal communal areas of the property.
- Operating a business: most leases will not allow residents to openly operate a business from the property. This includes letting the property or letting rooms on websites such as AirBnB.
- Window boxes: even if a resident wants to spruce up the exterior of their property with flowerpots and window boxes, they may find that their lease prohibits it. This limitation would also apply to most other external additions to the property such as signs, deposited items or even emptying vacuum cleaner dust.
Are there limitations on noise levels from other residents?
Yes. Every resident is entitled to what your lease will call ‘quiet enjoyment’. This term refers to residents being able to live in their properties without having to suffer sources of noise or other disturbances that a reasonably tolerant person would find disturbing. These disturbances could be loud music, shouting neighbours, messy or noisy building works (that are deemed to be non-essential) as well as being interrupted unannounced by tradespeople arranged by your landlord. Of course, the best way to address any unwanted noise is to first speak with the person or company involved and try to explain your concerns and feelings. In most cases, agreements and compromises can be found amicably.
Should I care about the length of my lease?
In short, yes. When you purchase a leasehold, your solicitor should advise you regarding any concerns relating to the remaining time on the lease. Typically, the lease should have at least 80 years still to run. This is particularly important if the flat is to be mortgaged because mortgage providers will stipulate the minimum length of lease they will accept in order to grant a loan. Some will allow 70 years, some 75, some 80. If the lease is shorter than this time, it may be advisable to agree an extension to the lease with the freeholder before you complete on the purchase.
If you ever have concerns about your lease and you do not have a copy to hand, you can request a copy from the freeholder or the managing agent. If you are considering purchasing a leasehold property you should always ensure your solicitor explains the covenants contained within it, so you fully understand your responsibilities and those of the freeholder.
If you feel that your property would benefit from a more professional managing agent, get in touch with us today to discuss your property.