When writing my blog, I try to ensure that the information included in them is both interesting, or as interesting as property management can be… but also useful! With that in mind this week I am focusing on service charge provisions in leases, challenges to the same and the consequences of challenging these.
Get familiar with your lease
As always, I would recommend that as a leaseholder you should have a familiarity with your lease, and in particular the clauses which relate to living at the building. Often this familiarity ends with whether you can have your own tv aerial or are obliged to connect up to the existing system which doesn’t offer Sky +/Q. It could even be that you can’t have a pet or even whether you are allowed to work from home. It is not often that thoughts are given to your future in your new home.
However, we at MIH would always recommend that rather than focusing on the immediate aspects of your lease you should look at the provisions which perhaps don’t seem so relevant at first glance such as the alteration clauses.
We appreciate that when buying a property as perhaps your first time buy, a rental investment or even your first home with a partner you are not looking to make changes. However as was once said by St Maher in 1225 and perhaps most famously by the Rolling Stones:
“Time waits for no one”
It is likely that your situation can change quickly and rather than it being a case of suddenly realising you can’t live with the avocado bath suite that looked acceptable when you moved in, it could be that you are extending your family and need more space without being able to move. Alternatively, it could be a case of having downsized because your birds have all flown from the next.
What if you want to make changes to your property?
For whatever reason, you decide to make changes to your property the first thing to do is refer to the lease to see if there are any rules you need to abide by if you want to carry out works. Some leases have an absolute prohibition clause on any works being carried out and I have even seen a Lease where you can’t even change the interior cupboards without permission.
With that in mind it is tempting to ignore the lease and just go ahead, after all changing a few cupboards isn’t going to affect your neighbours. However, should you look to sell your property and the lease plan does not configure with what’s in your flat then you could have to apply for a retrospective Licence to Alter. This could be refused (it would be extremely harsh but could happen especially) or you may be asked to return the property to its former state so that the property is in accordance with the original plan.
Licence to Alter
Luckily most leases have a clause which allows the lessee to apply for a Licence to Alter and a good managing agent should be able to direct you to this and advise you on how to apply. It is only in extreme cases that permission is needed to change cupboards but generally you can carry out a like for like refurbishment without any permission needed. Although if you are in a property with a communal heating and hot water system you will need assistance from the communal plumbing engineers.
Where you are looking to take down walls, build walls, change the layout, put in different plumbing systems or even change the flooring you are likely to need a formal Licence to Alter. Again you should contact your managing agent to ask them the process of getting a Licence. They will usually have a form you will need to complete and will request funds in advance for surveyors and legal fees.
Please remember the cost of the Licence is borne by the applicant only and therefore the managing agent will need to be in funds to pay these as monies. They cannot be borrowed from the service charge to cover any fees. Once the surveyors have reviewed your plans they will be able to advise whether planning and building control will need to be involved.
Are exteriors included?
As a rule, the exterior of the property is not usually included in your demise, and there is usually a total prohibition on any works being carried out. In some cases, and depending on the works, an application may be considered but you will need to obtain permissions to carry out any works from the planning department in your local area together with Building Regulations.
It is worth noting that even if you own a freehold property on a private estate that permission will need to be sought as often the charm of the properties is in their identical appearance.
By now this may all seem too complicated and you may be thinking is there any point but if you have put together a good package, have obtained the right advice and work with the managing agent then you should have a seamless transition into the home of your dreams.
Just one word of warning though, always be considerate to your neighbours as they are likely to be living through the works as well as you and won’t benefit from the end results.