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Leasehold Property: Can I alter or improve my flat?

Leasehold Property: Can I alter or improve my flat?

Niki Adkins, Associate in Frettens' expert Leasehold Property Team, answers the question 'can I alter my property?'; providing an overview of licenses to alter and deeds of variation.

Can I improve or alter my property?

In most cases you can; but it will usually be subject to your freeholder’s consent by way of a ‘Licence to Alter’.  You should never proceed to alter or improve the flat without checking your lease first and/or liaising with your freeholder.

Your freeholder has a duty to the other flat-owners in the building to make sure that they are not adversely effected by your proposals and to ensure the building’s structural integrity is protected. 

In addition, the flat leases may prevent the freeholder from granting certain permissions, so a detailed review of yours and the other leases is often required.

Can I make alterations to a leasehold property?

The lease is the first place to start when considering what alterations (if any) are permitted and whether freeholder-consent is needed. Some leases ban alterations all together; and some even ban simple improvements such as new kitchens and bathrooms, although this is less frequent. 

Most common is a clause stating that improvements can only be made by a flat-owner with the prior formal consent of the freeholder. The lease as a whole would need to be considered as there are often provisions regulating the use/size/nature of a flat and what a freeholder can or cannot consent to.

What is a ‘Licence to Alter’?

If alterations are made to a flat, a Licence to Alter would be required by a future buyer (and/or their mortgage lender) to show that the correct procedures have been followed and that they won’t have issues during their ownership of the flat. 

A ‘Licence to Alter’ is the legal document that records the freeholder’s permission and the basis on which the permission is granted.  The Licence would also cover important points like the level of contractors’ insurance required, and the hours of the day the work can be carried out. 

Depending on the nature of the alterations, the Licence may also require the works to be inspected during and afterwards, and then ‘signed-off’ by the freeholder’s appointed surveyor. The complexity of the Licence will depend entirely on the nature and complexity of the proposed alterations.

What is a ‘Deed of Variation’?

In this context, a Deed of Variation formally varies an existing lease.  It would usually be completed once the works had been carried out and the freeholder is satisfied that they have been carried out in accordance with the Licence to Alter and to an appropriate standard.    

For example, where the internal layout of a flat is being altered, a new lease plan would be required to formally record the change in layout of the flat.  This new lease plan would be incorporated by way of a Deed of Variation. 

Again, this would be required by a future buyer, or their mortgage lender.

The Deed of Variation may also record other variations to the existing lease, for example, formally recording that the flat-owner will be responsible for a larger share of the building’s service charges or buildings insurance (if appropriate) as a result of their works. 

My colleague has written an article about Deeds of Variations to vary ground rent, which can be read here.

Can a freeholder refuse to consent to a license to alter?

Again, it depends entirely on the wording of the flat lease. 

If the lease contains wording to the effect that the freeholder cannot unreasonably withhold consent, then the freeholder cannot refuse to consent to ‘improvement’ works.  However, there will of course sometimes be a difference in opinion as to what constitutes ‘improvements’.

How do you obtain a license to alter?

Assuming there is no objection by the freeholder, our ‘Alterations to Residential Flats Guide’ provides a general overview of the process.

The process can also differ depending on the nature of the works; usually, the more complicated the works are, more steps and more complex documentation are required.

The first step would be to approach the freeholder (usually via its managing agent, if any) about the proposed works to gauge their opinion; communication is key! 

If the freeholder objects to the proposed works, our Dispute Resolution Team can advise as to the available options.

Who pays for all the legal work and surveyor’s assistance?

As the flat-owner is the party seeking the freeholder’s consent, and the works are for the flat-owner’s benefit, the flat-owner would be required to cover all associated costs for both itself and the freeholder. 

Leasehold Property Solicitors

If this article has raised an queries regarding licences for alterations, please contact our friendly and experienced Leasehold Property Team

We offer a free initial chat for all new clients, so please don't hesitate to call us on 01202 499 255 or contact us here.

The content of this article, blog or video is not intended as specific legal advice. For tailored assistance, please contact a member of our team.