As a managing agent, we stumble across many a misunderstanding by leaseholders in relation to their lease. Here we have set out some of the most common: –
I bought my flat, it belongs to me
As a leaseholder you actually hold a long-lease on your flat, similar to renting a property but over a far longer period of time and with differing repairing and legal obligations. The Freeholder/Landlord retains ownership of the property, and effectively lends it to you for the period of time stated within your lease.
I can keep pets in my property if I wish
Not necessarily. It is very common for leases to contain either a complete prohibition on keeping animals within the individual flats or certainly some sort of restriction whereby you would need to obtain Landlord’s consent to do so. Many leaseholders have proceeded to sneak a pet into a property only to find that they create noise disturbance or fouling nuisance to other residents and are then found to be in breach of their lease terms. Worst case scenario? Fido would need to go back to the dogs home or you may need to move home yourself!
I can change the layout of my flat
Whilst interior decorating is likely to be permitted under the terms of your lease, structural changes to the layout of your flat or indeed to the internal plumbing and electrical services may be restricted by a requirement for Landlord/Freeholder consent. You must check your lease clearly on repairing restrictions as, for example, your windows may be a leaseholder responsibility to maintain, but if you want to completely replace them you are likely to need consent to do so as this could affect the Freehold structure and external aesthetics of the building. Imagine if everyone had free reign to install multi-coloured window frames? Ok its unlikely, but its not impossible, and these things can affect saleability and value for all leaseholders. Be prepared that if you are required to obtain consent, there will also be costs involved.
That wasn’t my fault!
As a leaseholder, you remain responsible for abiding by the terms of your lease, whether you are residing at the property or not. If you intend to sub-let your property firstly, check that your lease allows sub-letting (not all of them do!) and secondly, remember that you will remain liable for the acts and behaviour or your sub-tenant and could be in breach of your lease without even knowing it! You remain ultimately responsible for ensuring that your tenant complies with the terms set out within your long lease; including provision of access when reasonably requested, observing the lease regulations such as not hanging laundry on the balcony, no installing your own satellite dish, ensuring neighbouring properties are not disturbed by noise between certain times of the day and not leaving personal items or rubbish in common areas and hallways.
I can pay my service charge/ground rent monthly.
As a managing agent, this is something we are increasingly faced with, particularly in these times of economic and financial difficulty. As a leaseholder, when you take on legal responsibility for that property, you also agree to comply with the requirements stipulated in relation to payment of service charges or ground rent. Most leases allow for payment of ground rent half-yearly, and service charges half-yearly or quarterly and you should make yourself aware of those payment dates right from the outset. In cases of genuine financial hardship, leaseholders may be able to negotiate and agree temporary payment plans with the Landlord via the managing agent, but it should never be assumed that you can simply divide your annual charge by 12 and set up a standing order. You will be in breach of your lease and could end up with arrears charges or legal fees being incurred.
Why am I paying a managing agent all this money?
We often hear leaseholders say to us ‘I’m paying you all this money to manage the building’. It is a common misconception that managing agents are simply pocketing those collected funds! In reality, the proportion of total service charge paid to your managing agent to look after the building on your behalf, is relatively small.
Your service charges not only pay for your managing agent, they may also provide funds for some or all of the following:
- General reactive repairs and maintenance – fixing a damaged fence for example or replacing a fallen roof tile.
- Regular maintenance contracts such as cleaning, gardening, window cleaning, intercom, television and lift maintenance, gutter and drainage maintenance, waste management and many more!
- Utilities – provision of energy supplies for the common areas (water, gas and electricity)
- Insurance policies – buildings insurance, engineering policies for electrical items such as lifts and electric gates and Directors & Officers to provide protection for Directors of the management/RTM company for your building. These individuals take on important legal liabilities on behalf of all leaseholders, and generally are not remunerated.
- Health & Safety – regulation on building safety and in particular, fire safety, are ever changing and complex. Service charges allow qualified assessors to provide regular health and safety reports to ensure your building is safe. This includes asbestos surveys, general risk assessments, fire risk assessments, legionella testing etc.
- Professional and legal services – appointment of a Surveyor to oversee works or legal fees for assistance on recovery of arrears, breach of lease etc.
- Reserve/Sinking funds – collection of funds to cover future major works.
This list is by no means exhaustive and there is always much more work going on behind the scenes to keep your building running as it should.
Perhaps this sentiment comes from feeling that your managing agent is not performing as they should, in which case drop Wishtower a line as we can definitely help.
Leases are complex, legal documents and leaseholders should make sure to familiarise themselves with the details of their lease. If your lease is unclear or you need some additional help, give us a call and we will always do our best to break it down for you. And if we don’t know the answer, we will always know where to go to find it on your behalf.