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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
What do I own?
What area am I supposed to maintain?
Is that my balcony?
Should I be paying for repairs to that?
Who is paying for the windows to be cleaned?
I have a bill for £1000’s for repairs – what should I do as I can’t afford it?
My lease only has 50 years on it- I don’t know what to do?
My landlord is saying he is going to repossess, what should I do?
I bought my council flat 40 years ago, can I renew my lease?
At the LEASE CONFERENCE 2016 it was confirmed that these are the types of questions they deal with in their hundreds every day from concerned and confused leaseholders.
The general feeling was of amazement at the public's lack of knowledge in relation to all matters leasehold not only in respect of the provisions of their leases but their statutory rights. But are the lawyers to blame?
It was felt that both lawyers and estate agents should be drawing the attention of purchasers of residential leasehold property to their need to read and understand their leases. They should also be aware of their rights particularly in respect to service charges, restrictions on use and rights to extend lease terms. There was general concern at the number of leaseholders who were confused as to why they were restricted in their use and appeared to have little or no knowledge of their rights in relation to service charges. Worse still, many were not even aware of their obligation to pay service charges or how those were calculated. They had no idea where to go with problems and many of the calls to the LEASE call centre concerned relatively minor queries.
Leaseholders need more detailed advice, before committing to the purchase of a leasehold property, of the covenants and provisions in the lease and should be given a greater understanding of the restrictive nature of some leases. They should also be made aware of their statutory rights and the protection the law offers in relation to residential leasehold property.
The conference provided really important updates in relation to service charges, recent significant case law, Rights to Buy and the dangers of allowing unexpired lease terms to run low.
It highlighted the absurdity that can arise from a badly drafted lease and reminded us that no matter how absurd the result is from interpreting the lease as it is written - if the lease is clear – in the main, whatever the result is, its provisions will be binding on the parties. It is not for the courts to rewrite a lease whose provisions are clear just because the outcome is absurd. Hence the need to ensure that anyone entering into a lease is fully aware of its provisions particularly in relation to service charges. The lesson - INSTRUCT A GOOD FIRM OF LAWERS WHO SPECIALISE IN RESIDENTIAL LEASEHOLD.
We were reminded however, that there is a good deal of statute to protect leaseholders and freeholders alike.
It is so important that leaseholders and freeholders are aware not only of their rights and obligations within the written lease but also those offered to them by statute - Rights to Manage. This statute allows flat owners to take over management of the block without the need to prove any fault on the part of the freeholder, rights to enfranchise, rights to extended leases and of First Refusal.
In short, the conference drew to our attention the lack of knowledge and the need to educate those buying or living in leasehold property and keep them abreast of their rights.
Leasehold is a specialist subject. It was evident from the conference that many leaseholders are unclear on their rights, do not understand the provisions of their leases nor what rights they do or do not have. Many firms deal with leasehold matters within the residential property team but it is a potentially contentious area and deserves to be dealt with as a specialised subject.
Brethertons have recognised this as a specialist area and have an experienced and specialist team who can answer queries on interpreting leases. Assist in understanding the extent of the duties of the landlord and those of the tenant. Advise on statutory rights for enfranchisement, rights to manage and rights to acquire freehold of houses on long leases. If it’s Residential Leasehold there is someone in our team who can help. Call us. We are very friendly.