Most people would realise that they need to seek their landlord’s consent before making any improvements or alterations to a rented property, such as removing or part-removing internal walls, replacing carpet with a laminate or wooden floor, or fitting new doors. But it is also necessary in the case of a leasehold property. Someone who has purchased a property may believe that they have the right to make whatever alterations they like but if they have entered into a leasehold agreement that is not the case. Equally, someone may believe in good faith that whatever improvements they make to a property must benefit the landlord/freeholder as much as the tenant/leaseholder. And while that does sound logical, it is not the position that the law adopts.
You actually have more freedom as a leaseholder to buy and sell a property than you have to make structural amendments without explicit permission. In fact, making alterations without a Licence to Alter from the freeholder will in most cases result in breach of lease agreements, with serious consequences.
Licence to Alter
It is usual in lease agreements to include a clause requiring the tenant to seek permission from the owner before making any structural alterations. This is the Licence to Alter, a formal written document, and will include detail such as drawings of alterations, timescales, health & safety considerations, assessment of impact on neighbours, etc. Note – proceed very cautiously if you believe the terms of your lease allow you to make the alterations you are considering without explicit permission. For example, most new heating systems require at least one pipe to run outside the building. This involves piercing an external wall and can qualify as a structural alteration.
Balance of Power
The landlord or freeholder does not hold all of the power in this situation – provided the tenant follows the correct procedure in applying for a Licence to Alter (also known as Licence for Alterations), legislation requires that the landlord cannot unreasonably withhold provision. If you believe that your landlord has refused you unreasonably, Ardens Solicitors can represent you in court to force consent to proceed.
Locating the Freeholder
However, the onus is on the tenant to track down the landlord to request a Licence to Alter. Any demand for service charge must contain a correspondence address in England and Wales for your landlord. Fun fact: if the service charge demand does not contain such an address, you are not obliged to pay the service charge. If you don’t have a service charge demand to hand, check the leasehold agreement, or failing that, the landlord may be set up as a limited company. In this case, contact details will be listed on the Companies House register, searchable online.
The most obvious consequence of acting without formal permission is forfeiture of the lease with recovery of all associated costs by the landlord. The tenant becomes homeless and out of pocket.
The landlord may prefer to apply for an injunction to prevent works beginning or to force the tenant to put everything back the way it was, at the tenant’s cost. The tenant has then spent a lot of money for absolutely no benefit: once for the works and once again to reverse the works. The landlord may additionally seek to sue the tenant for damages.
It is crucial to follow the correct procedure every step of the way to ensure that you do not unintentionally fall foul of the leasehold agreement. The first step is to contact the landlord to open discussions on the proposed works and to then submit detailed information for a formal Licence for Alterations.
Ardens Solicitors are experts in this and every aspect of English property law. Contact us at the earliest opportunity if you are considering any property alterations. Our solicitors are fluent in English, Polish, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and Gujarati.
Ardens Solicitors Property Team Leader, Scott Morris, 020 7100 7098 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org