28 May 2024 by Haley Packman

Licences for Alterations

Block of flats which leaseholders may acquire the freehold to through collective enfranchisment

If you are preparing for alterations to be undertaken to your apartment, have you considered whether the consent of the landlord may be required?

What is a Licence for Alterations? 

Most residential long leases include an obligation on the part of the leaseholder to obtain prior consent of the landlord before alterations can be made to the property. This process is known as obtaining a Licence for Alterations and, whilst each individual lease is distinct, the process remains largely the same. The purpose of the Licence is to not only obtain permission from the landlord but also to set out the terms and conditions upon which the work is to be undertaken.

Reviewing the lease

In most cases, the lease will contain an ‘alterations covenant’ on part of the leaseholder, typically placing a restriction as to the extent of any work that can be undertaken to alter the property.  Generally, the lease will contain one of the following:-

  • Absolute Covenant – the leaseholder is prohibited from undertaking specific or any alterations to the property;
  • Qualified Covenant – the leaseholder is prohibited from undertaking specific alterations to the property unless landlord consent has been granted; or
  • Fully Qualified Covenant – the leaseholder is prohibited from undertaking specific alterations unless landlord consent has been granted, which cannot be unreasonably withheld.

If the lease is silent and does not contain an alterations covenant, then the leaseholder is able to carry out alterations to the property without obtaining consent from the landlord.  However, it is always sensible to seek legal advice ahead of starting the work and also to consider the extent of the demise and other repairing obligations.

Whilst undertaking alterations where permitted can seem daunting, the good news is that there is an established framework in place to protect both the landlord and the tenant.  However, you should also remain mindful of the remaining obligations contained in the lease.  Perhaps more so when the freehold is held by the lessees themselves through a management or right to enfranchise company.  Genuine attempts to help your neighbours, whilst well meaning, can have serious and catastrophic consequences.

In the case of Duval v 11-13 Randolph Crescent Limited, the Supreme Court upheld the decision that by granting consent for prohibited alterations to one leaseholder, the landlord would then be in breach of their obligations to the remaining leaseholders.   Whilst this case is multi-layered and complex, it does highlight that issues can arise when trying to assist your neighbours and in instances where the freehold is held by you and your fellow lessees.

Obtaining prior permission for alterations from the landlord

To kick start the process, the lessee would usually need to provide what is called a “Scope of Works”, which will include a description of the works, as well as reference to the pertinent provisions contained in the lease.  This is often accompanied by specialist drawings and information about the project management of the works.

It may also be necessary to evidence regulatory documents (e.g. planning and building regulations permission and other statutory approvals). These will form part of the Licence when granted.

The landlord will usually then seek advice from a surveyor to ensure the proposed alterations do not have an adverse effect on the building and the property, as well as taking legal advice.

Preparing the Licence for Alterations

Assuming the landlord is able to grant consent, they will then appoint a solicitor to prepare the necessary documentation.

Commencement of the alterations

Once the Licence is completed, the leaseholder is legally entitled to commence the works. The landlord’s surveyor will visit the property on completion to ensure that the alterations made are compliant with the Licence.

If you are thinking about carrying out works at your property, or need any other advice on your lease, please get in touch with our expert leasehold team.

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