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Long leasehold disputes - Alterations in residential properties

Long leasehold disputes - Alterations in residential properties

When you lease out your property you give day to day control to your tenant. However, sometimes a tenant can alter or use the property in a way that wasn't agreed. So, as a freeholder, what would do you do about unauthorised alterations in residential property that has been let on a long lease?

Long leaseholds are normally for 99 or 125 years, although they can last for up to 999 years. This type of lease is very different to a short term letting of a flat under assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs). The information in this article relates to long lease lettings where the freeholder of a block of flats is referred to as the landlord and the long leaseholder is referred to as the tenant.
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Does a tenant need permission to make alterations?

The key document to check is your lease. This will say whether there is a complete prohibition on making alterations or whether alternations can be made if the landlord's consent is obtained.

There is usually a complete prohibition on making structural alterations. Where other alterations are allowed with the landlord's consent it is implied that the landlord cannot unreasonably withhold their consent if the tenant views the alterations as improvements (Section 19 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927).

Section 19 even gives tenants a right to carry out improvements to the property where there is a complete prohibition on alterations. There are also limited circumstances where a tenant has a right to compensation at the end of the term from the landlord for the improvement.

The landlord charging administration fees and requiring reasonable checks would not be seen as unreasonably withholding their consent.

The landlord charging a premium may be seen as unreasonably withholding their consent. It is more likely this would be unreasonable if the alterations are entirely to the property and do not affect any of the building retained by the landlord.

For major alterations permission would also be needed from the planning department, building control, and the lender.

 
 

Does a tenant need permission to sub-let the property?

The lease will confirm whether there is a complete prohibition on sub-letting or whether sub-letting can be carried out if the landlord's consent if obtained.

Where sub-letting is allowed with the landlord's consent it is implied that the landlord cannot unreasonably withhold his consent (section 19 Landlord and Tenant Act 1927).

The landlord charging administration fees and requiring reasonable checks would not be seen as unreasonably withholding their consent.

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Does a tenant need permission to change the use of the property?

The lease will normally contain a complete prohibition against using the property for commercial purposes. Change of use would require permission from the planning department, building control, and the lender.
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What steps can a landlord take if a tenant makes alterations in breach of the lease?

If alterations, sub-letting, or change of use have been carried out without the landlord's consent then the tenant will be in breach of the lease. The question will then be if the tenant had made an application for permission whether it would have been granted?

If permission would have been granted then the alteration or sub-letting can remain, subject to the landlord's administrative costs.

If permission would not have been granted the landlord could seek to apply for an injunction, or take steps to forfeit the lease.It is critical early legal advice is taken as the landlord can easily waive the breach which will limit his options.

If the alterations have affected the building retained by the landlord there is also the potential for the landlord to issue a claim against the tenant for trespass.

More Information 

The Property Litigation Team at Pinney Talfourd regularly act for landlords in taking steps to protect their property and enforce the terms of the lease.Likewise, we frequently act for tenants in advising them as to their position where they propose to carry out alterations, or where they have carried out alterations and a dispute has arisen. We are experienced in landlord and tenant disputes and can quickly advise you on the best course of action.

Contact our Property Litigation Team to protect your property today or for any other property litigation issues.
 
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