At Darlingtons we get a lot of enquiries and instructions about residential lease issues relating to flat owners with long residential leases.
Licence to alter – why needed?
The first point to be aware of is terminology, there can be confusion about whether there are any differences between a deed of variation and a licence to alter. Commonly, it’s all part of the same process which can take flat owners by surprise.
The reason for this is that when you buy a flat, even though you buy a long leasehold interest and effectively own rather than rent that flat, you are still bound by the lease contractually and can’t just alter the flat without checking whether you need consent. If you do, you typically do need a licence for alterations from the freeholder and this will mean extra cost and delay.
No licence to alter – no big deal?
An understandable question we sometimes get asked, either before alterations have been done or where alterations have happened without realising licence was needed is – what are the consequences?
It’s generally true to say that the fact the flat owner owns on a very long lease means that it’s highly unlikely, in contract law terms, that the freeholder could, for example, claim fundamental breach of contract. Damages would be in most cases nominal also. The biggest issue will tend to be trying to sell a flat, where alterations have been done, and there is no licence. This could hold up or scupper future sale and create more cost as retrospective licence may be needed or possibly indemnity insurance,
Typical situations where licence to alter may be needed
- Structural alterations
- Change of layout
- Changing floors
- Changing windows
- Changing the heating system
The above is not an exact list. It’s important to realise that whilst leases tend to have similar clauses, they are not all the same and much depends on how old the lease is. Over time, what’s become legally standard has changed so it’s essential to read your lease carefully.
Finding out that you need licence to alter often comes as a surprise and an annoyance to flat owners and understandably so. If you do discover you need formal consent, you will almost certainly want things sorted out as quickly as possible and as cost effectively as possible. At Darlingtons we undertake this kind of work literally daily, so can give you a competitive fixed fee quote and a proactive, knowledgeable service.
Get in touch with me to discuss if you need a solicitor for advice on your lease, flat alterations or a licence to alter.
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