A regular query raised by leasehold property owners is: what works can I carry out to my property and is my property subject to any restrictions? The common misconception is that you can carry out any works you wish.
If you own a leasehold flat or house, you should check your lease to understand if it contains any covenants which require that you obtain consent from your landlord before carrying out alterations.
A Lease will commonly contain one of two kinds of restrictions in relation to alterations:
- Absolute covenant – alterations to the property are prohibited.
- Qualified covenant –certain alterations are permitted subject to obtaining the landlord's consent. In this case, plans and specifications must first be submitted to the landlord for their consideration prior to carrying out any works and there is an implied obligation on the landlord not to unreasonably withhold or delay in issuing consent.
What works require landlord's consent?
The type of work which can be carried out depends on the wording of the lease. An alterations covenant is to ensure that if you carry out any works, you do not cause any damage to the building and/or reduce its value. It is usual that the lease could state one of the following:
- Not to carry out any structural alterations and/or structural additions to the property. This is an absolute covenant and means you cannot carry out any works to the structure of the building but it does not prevent non-structural alterations; or
- Not to carry out any structural alterations and/or additions including non-structural alterations without first obtaining the landlord's prior written consent. This is a qualified covenant. This means that landlord's consent is required before any alterations are carried out to the property.
Examples of structural alterations are changing the existing internal layout of the property, removal of a load-bearing wall or chimney breast, cutting through an external wall, replacing windows, moving or installing a kitchen or bathroom in another part of the property etc.
Non-structural alterations are generally work to the fixtures and fittings in the property or cosmetic changes such as upgrading the kitchen or bathroom (provided the walls are not removed).
You should be aware that if your works consist of an alteration to part of the building which is not demised by your lease, the landlord is not obliged to grant consent and the implied obligation on the landlord not to unreasonably withhold or delay consent does not apply.
How to make an application for landlord's consent
You should make a formal application to your landlord and supply detailed information concerning your works including:
- a detailed description,
- plans and specifications showing the current and proposed layouts,
- instructed architects/contractors details,
- proposed timelines to commence and complete the works.
This will enable the landlord to make a fully informed decision.
Additional considerations as regards intended works
You should consider if an application to the local authority for planning permission, buildings regulations approval and listed buildings consent is necessary. Consideration should further be made as to whether the works will affect the party walls of any adjoining properties and whether you need to instruct a party wall specialist.
If you have a mortgage, you should check with your lender as to whether its consent is also required to ensure you do not breach the terms of your mortgage.
Consideration & issuance of landlord consent
It is usual that the landlord will ask you for funds on account before it considers your application.
If prepared to issue consent to either some, or all of your works, that consent may be subject to conditions which could potentially include:
- Payment of:
- solicitor's fees to produce a Licence for Alterations – this is usually payable whether consent is granted or not.
- surveyor's fees to consider the extent of the works proposed;
- a damage deposit for any damage caused to the property and/or building as a consequence of the works;
- a reasonable premium for the work - the landlord is entitled to request a reasonable sum as compensation for any diminution in the value of the premises as a result of the works. This depends upon the type of works being carried and the wording of the alteration covenants. It may be relevant where structural works are involve.
- Production of certificates and permissions from the local authority on completion of the works evidencing compliance with its requirements as regards planning permission building regulations consent, listed building consent, electrical certificates, gas safety certificates etc.
Consequences of works without consent
If you carry out works without consent, you will be in breach of your Lease.
The landlord is entitled to commence legal action against you for this breach. You could be liable to a claim for damages and/or be required to re-instate the Property. You could also be in breach of your mortgage conditions and the lender may be within its rights to ask for immediate repayment.
You can try to rectify the position by applying to the landlord for retrospective consent. However, this can be costly and in some instances the landlord may be able to ask for a premium or even for works to be reinstated.
You should make contact with your landlord as soon as you decide to carry out works and to find out whether prior consent is in fact required. If consent is needed, it can take time to gather together the information and documents required to submit your formal application, to answer any initial questions your landlord (or its managing agents) may have and for the landlord to consider your application with a view to instructing solicitors.