1 August 2018 by Leah Veasey

Tenants’ Tales: What to do with Mrs Funnell? A Lease Review Tale

A series of blogs following the lives of fictitious characters designed to help explain the legal aspects of  leasehold living in a fun yet educational way.

Tenant's Tale

All sorts of problems and issues can arise with flat living.  As a freeholder or managing agent, you may receive a complaint from Mrs Funnell at number 5 that Mr Anderson in the flat above is having raucous late night parties, and Miss Browne’s dog, next door, is shut in making a racket all day every day.  Inevitably, Mrs Funnell will also end up challenging her service charge bill at the end of the year; she’ll say that it’s because you haven’t been cleaning the windows at the block, so “why should I pay for that?”

The lease should always be the first port of call when trying to resolve, or prevent, disputes between freeholder and leaseholders, such as these.  The problem is, leases end up signed and filed away, collecting dust because the language is so formal and archaic that neither party can understand it.  This problem is often compounded by one party believing that they do understand the lease, but in fact, simply applying an interpretation which suits their needs.  For example, Mrs Funnell might think that it is the responsibility of the freeholder to clean the windows, but what if it’s not?

Not only do I see these issues arise regularly in my working life, I also see them arise in my personal life.  As a volunteer board member at a local community and business centre, I am always surprised by the number of business tenants who simply do not understand that their lease is a contract, which binds them in the same way that any other contract would.  The same is true of residential leases – they are a framework of rights and obligations which dictate how the freeholder-leaseholder relationship should operate.

So, what are we going to do with Mrs Funnell, you might ask?  Well, the first step would be to review the lease, and discover whether any of the issues that she has raised are issues that you need to deal with.  Does the lease provide Mrs Funnell with a right of quiet enjoyment, and is this being breached?  Do the regulations prevent loud noise after certain hours?  Are the leaseholders allowed to keep pets in the flats?  Who needs to pay the costs associated with enforcing those covenants?  Whose responsibility is it to clean the windows?  The lease should answer all of these queries, and if it doesn’t we might need to have a chat about how the leases can be varied to resolve this.

So whether you are a freeholder, a managing agent, or a leaseholder, you should make sure that you not only read but understand the leases; and if you don’t understand how they work in practice, take some advice.  It pays to know exactly what it is that you are committing to, a lesson that Mr Anderson is yet to learn!

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