If you own a flat or maisonette, you may have plans to update and refurbish the property. It’s a great way to personalise the space for your lifestyle or get the property ready for the rental market, while adding value to your asset. At Squarepoint Surveyors, we have many years’ experience helping our clients with property refurbishment and restoration projects of all types and sizes, delivering results to the highest standards of quality.
However, you may not be able to carry out the proposed works if you don’t own the freehold of the building and without obtaining the necessary consents. There is a major difference between freehold and leasehold ownership which affects the alterations you are legally allowed to make to the building.
Flats and maisonettes are typically sold on a leasehold basis, meaning you own the right to occupy the demised premises for a set period of time as per the terms of the Lease. The building itself, as well as the land it stands on, belongs to the freeholder. Even if you own a share of the freehold, your ownership of the property will still be governed by the Lease.
Check your Lease
Your first port of call is the Lease itself. This is the legal basis for your rights and responsibilities with regard to the property. The document may well contain clauses about refurbishments and alterations that are permitted / prohibited under the terms of the Lease. Every Lease is different, so scrutinise yours carefully for information.
Structural alterations are often not allowed at all, and even changing the internal layout may not be possible. Most permitted alterations will require the landlord’s prior consent, and failure to obtain this before you start building works will put you in breach of the Lease. Sometimes you only need permission for major structural works and sometimes the Lease may require you to obtain freeholder consent for any work.
Obtain a Licence to Alter (LTA)
The freeholder’s written formal consent to any proposed building work that modifies the leasehold property is provided via a Licence to Alter. This legal agreement is usually drafted by solicitors and its purpose is to protect the freeholder against potential losses and to ensure that the works won’t adversely affect other residents in the building.
An LTA is typically required for works such as
- Removal of a loadbearing wall or chimney breast
- Creating new openings within a wall
- Changing windows or glazing
- Moving/adding kitchens or bathrooms
- New heating installations
- Altering floor finishes (e.g. from carpet to hard flooring)
Your formal application must be supported by detailed plans and specifications that will be reviewed by the landlord’s surveyor. By law, a freeholder cannot unreasonably refuse an LTA application as long as all reasonable conditions have been met and the interest of the landlord and other leaseholders in the building are protected. For professional assistance to help you obtain a Licence to Alter for refurbishing your flat or maisonette, get in touch with the team at Squarepoint Surveyors who will be delighted to offer their expertise.
Serve Party Wall Notice
According to Party Wall legislation, any proposed building works that could affect the structural strength and support function of a party wall or structure between building owners, or cause inconvenience to adjoining occupiers, must be notified. This will affect all structural alterations such as cutting into a party wall, demolishing or rebuilding a party wall, digging foundations for a loft conversion or basement extension, or extending a garden flat.
What’s more, if your leasehold property is part of a purpose-built block of flats or a conversion, the proposed works may affect several parties. Agreement must be reached with each affected neighbour before you can begin the refurbishment works.
Complying with party wall legislation is a complex process that requires specialist knowledge from a seasoned party wall surveyor, such as Squarepoint Surveyors.
Get Planning Permission
It is worth emphasising that leasehold properties do not benefit from permitted development rights, unlike freehold properties. In addition to an LTA from the freeholder and Party Wall Agreements with your neighbours, you will therefore also need to get full planning consent from your local planning authority.
Finally, if the property is situated in a Conservation Area, or the building is listed by Historic England, further planning restrictions will apply to help protect the special historical or architectural character of the building or the local area. It is highly recommended that you share your refurbishment plans with your local planning officer early on in the project, and follow their advice.