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Being a property owner comes with a responsibility to look after the asset. Whether you own a house or a flat, live in it yourself or use it as a buy-to-let investment, it is in your best interests to keep the property in good decorative order, and perhaps make a few home improvements along the way. However, if you own a leasehold flat, things may not be quite so simple...
The vast majority of residential leases include a requirement for the tenant (the leaseholder) to get permission from the landlord (the freeholder or their management agent) before alterations to the property can be made. The process is known as an application for a Licence for Alterations, or a Licence to Alter (LTA).
Every lease is different, and whether you need an LTA for the works you are planning to carry out depends entirely on what the document says. Most leases restrict the extent to which you can alter, extend or otherwise improve the property without getting the landlord’s written consent first. The most common types of work for which you would generally expect to need an LTA include:
Structural alterations, such as removing chimney breasts
Removing internal walls or forming new doorways
Cutting through external walls
Installing new windows
Moving a bathroom or kitchen to another room
Fitting additional bathrooms or WCs
New heating installations, e.g. making a new external opening for a boiler flue
Changing floor finishes, e.g. from carpets to wood flooring.
If you are in luck and the lease is silent on the question of alterations, you are free to proceed with your plans as you see fit. However, the far more likely scenario is that your lease will include one (or more) of the following three provisions when it comes to alterations:
Absolute Covenant – meaning alterations are prohibited unless the landlord makes an exception and waives the clause
Qualified Covenant – meaning alterations are prohibited unless the landlord’s consent has been granted
Fully Qualified Covenant – meaning alterations are prohibited unless the landlord gives his/her consent (which cannot be unreasonably withheld).
In practice, an LTA typically takes the form of a legal agreement drafted by solicitors. “This allows freehold owners to protect themselves against potential losses and ensure the works won’t adversely affect other residents in the building,” one industry expert goes on to explain.
Not bothering to obtain an LTA before making improvements to a leasehold property is not recommended as the risks of being ‘found out’, either now or when you come to sell the flat, are great and the consequences potentially serious, as this recent horror story amply illustrates. You will:
Be in breach of the terms of your lease, laying yourself open to enforcement action being taken against you
Face difficulties and additional costs if you then seek to apply for retrospective consent
Experience problems selling a flat with unregulated changes to the demise of the property.
To apply for a Licence to Alter, you will need to set out the proposed scope of the works to the landlord, provide relevant design drawings, structural drawings, building services drawings and specifications. You will also have to give an undertaking that all building works will be carried out in accordance with good working practices, and in compliance with all legally required planning permissions and building regulations. Once approved, all information will be recorded in the Licence to Alter.
Depending on the extent and complexity of your proposed works, the landlord may decide to appoint his own surveyors, structural engineers and other professionals as necessary to review and approve your proposals. The leaseholder will normally be responsible for bearing these costs, under the terms of the lease.
The law is quite clear – a landlord who receives an application for an LTA must not unreasonably withhold his/her consent. Specifically, he/she must:
Give consent except where it would be reasonable not to do so
Give written notice of the decision of whether or not to grant consent, along with any reasonable conditions attached
If consent is not given, provide reasons for withholding it
Do all of the above within a reasonable timeframe.
Renovating a leasehold flat is not something you should do without proper preparation. And, that includes taking a look at the lease to see if there might be any limitations to your decorating plans.
If your refurbishment project consists of straightforward painting and wallpapering, building fitted wardrobes and updating existing kitchens or bathrooms, there is probably not much to worry about. However, the more ambitious your apartment renovation plans are, the more caution you should exercise. Even seemingly innocuous home improvements, such as replacing carpets with laminate flooring, fitting a wood-burning stove into an existing chimney breast, or rerouting boiler flues or cooker hood vents, may be enough to catch you out.
With a leasehold flat, the lease determines the terms of your ownership. It is highly recommended that you familiarise yourself with the document, so you know your limits and obligations before you get the builders in.
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