2. Your lease explained
Your lease is a legal document which explains your rights and responsibilities as the leaseholder and the relationship between you and the council. Your solicitor should have explained the lease before it was granted or assigned to you. Leasehold ownership of a flat or maisonette is simply a long tenancy, the right to occupation and use of the flat for a long period - the ‘term’ of the lease.
This will usually be for 125 years and the flat can be bought and sold during that term. The term is fixed at the beginning and so decreases in length year by year.
The ownership of the flat or maisonette usually relates to everything within the four walls of the property, including floorboards and plaster to walls and ceiling, but does not usually include the external or structural walls, or the loft space. The structure and common parts of the building and the land it stands on are owned by the freeholder, who is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the building. The landlord can be a person or a company, but in your case is the local authority. A plan will be attached to your lease. This shows the boundaries of your home and the building that includes it. There may also be another plan to show the areas for which you will pay a share of estate maintenance costs.
The lease contains legally binding responsibilities both for you and us as the freeholder. There are also some statutory requirements that ensure you have information and are consulted before major works are carried out.
Your responsibilities as a leaseholder
Your lease will impose various obligations and responsibilities on you. Some of these obligations and responsibilities are described below:
i Obligation to pay ground rent
Under the terms of the lease you are required to pay ground rent. The ground rent is usually set at £10 per annum.
ii Obligation to pay the service charge
Under the terms of the lease you are required to pay towards the expenses which include the maintaining, repairing, improving, cleaning and insuring of the building and grounds and the shared areas and structural parts.
iii Obligation to pay outgoings
Under the terms of the lease you are required to pay all rates and charges, taxes, utility bills etc charged in respect of your property.
iv Prohibition from sub-dividing part only of your property
Under the terms of the lease you cannot sub-divide.
v Obligation to keep your property good repair
Under the terms of the lease you are required to keep the demised property in good repair, this includes decorative repair. A full definition of your repairing obligations is included in your lease. It is not possible to list here all such potential responsibilities but these usually include:-
- all repairs to the inside of your home, and your windows and internal non-structural walls
- repairs to all fixtures and fittings inside your home, except any communal areas
- payment for repairing any damage to the building, services, grounds etc caused by you, by members of your household, or by your visitors or agents
- keeping the communal areas clean and tidy (except where it is the landlord charges you for full services
- decorating the inside of your home
- maintenance of private garden (if any) in a neat and tidy condition
You must not make repairs on landings, stairways, shared communal areas, structural parts of the building and other parts of the building and grounds that are not owned by you.
If any such work was carried out by you, members of your household, your visitors or agents, you will be required to pay for any damage caused. Furthermore, you will not be covered under the council’s insurance policy if an accident or damage was caused as a result.
vi Obligation not to cause damage to your home or any other part of the building
Under the terms of the lease you have a responsibility to ensure that you do not cause any damage to your home, or to any part of the building or grounds.
vii Obligation to allow the council access and entry to your flat
Under the terms of your lease you are obliged to give the council access to your flat if it is required to carry out an examination of the flat, or to make repairs. Usually, such access need only be given after a reasonable notice period.
However, you will be obliged to give immediate access in the event of emergencies and in some instances the council has the right to arrange to enter your property without your consent (for example a water leak affecting a property below).
viii Prohibition from doing or allowing anything to be done that might be a nuisance, annoyance or danger to the council or to other occupiers
The terms of your lease will impose various prohibitions on you not to act or allow others to act in such a way that might be or become a nuisance, annoyance, antisocial behaviour, or danger to the council, or to other occupiers in the block.
ix Prohibition from making any alterations to the property without the prior permission of the council
As a leaseholder you have the right to improve your home. While the council do not need to be informed about minor work such as decorating, you will need written permission before you make any alterations to your home which effects the building structure. It is not possible to list all of the types of alteration for which you would require permission but they would include, for example;
- Alterations that affect the structure, walls, windows, floors, ceilings, doors/frames, plumbing and electrical services
For example: the removal of internal walls may cause severe structural damage to a block and must not be done without prior permission.
- Additions of aerials or satellite dishes to the exterior of the building
- Outside decoration
- Replacement windows and exterior doors
To request permission to make any alterations you should write to the Leasehold Services. You will need to give as much information as possible about what you want to do and include a drawing or plan. A building surveyor may need to visit your home to see what you intend to do, before a decision can be made.
The permission that the council might give to go ahead with work is not the same as planning permission and building regulations approval. You are responsible for obtaining any necessary planning permission and building regulations approval before you commence the work. The council will normally make it a condition that you do this before permission is given for the work to be carried out.
If you do something without permission, the council has the right to put things back as they were and charge you for it.
x Prohibition on replacing or changing in any way the outside windows without the prior permission of the council
In most leases the windows belong to the leaseholder. However you must not replace windows unless the council has given you permission in writing first. If you replace or otherwise change the windows without permission, the council has the right to put things back as they were and charge you for it.
xi Prohibition on making loft conversions
As a leaseholder it is unlikely that you will own any loft space. If there is loft space above your flat, it is likely that the council owns it even if the loft hatch for access is inside your flat. You may apply to the council to buy the space but typically the council will not sell it. If you undertake a conversion without owning the space or without permission, the council has the right to put things back as they were and charge you for it.
Our responsibilities include
- Keeping the building insured and providing you with a copy of the summary of cover.
- Consulting you about any works that will cost more than £250 per home.
- Consulting you about any contract that will last for more than 12 months that will be reflected in your service charge as a charge of more than £100 per annum.
- Producing service charge accounts within six months of the end of the accounting year (currently 31 March) and providing these to you by 30 September.
- Keeping the structure, common parts and outside of the property in good repair.
- Not unreasonably refusing you permission for improvements or alterations you want to make to your home.
The services provided by Leasehold Services includes:
- Raising and issuing of the annual service charges to leaseholders
- Raising and issuing of service charges for major works
- Debt recovery
- Maintenance of leaseholder’s records
- Responding to enquiries/ complaints from leaseholders on related matters
- Responding to enquiries from solicitors on sales of property
- Responding to requests for lease extensions
- Responding to requests for leasehold enfranchisement
- Interpretation of legislation and implementation of any changes
- Calculation of management fees.
Therefore any enquiries regarding the content of the service charge should be directed to Leasehold Services in writing only in the first instance.
It is important that you keep to the conditions of your lease. If you break any of the conditions you will be in breach and we may take you to court. If the court considers the breach to be serious you could lose your home without any compensation or payment for your lease, and have to pay our court costs. This brief summary is only a general guide and has no legal authority.