Do I need a licence to alter my leasehold property?
If your lease or transfer document (TP1) specifies that you need a licence to alter [ often referred to as a “Licence for Alterations“] before you can carry out any works or alterations on your property, yes you do. If you are not sure whether or not your lease permits you to apply to your landlord for such a licence, make sure you an experienced solicitor take a look at your lease and confirm it either way.
Got a question about a Licence to Alter? Call our specialist team on FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 for no strings attached FREE initial phone advice.
What is a ‘Licence to Alter’?
It is a legal document issued by the freeholder and granted to a freeholder of a leasehold property allowing alteration to be made to that property. it applies equally to houses or flats – provided they are leasehold. The nature and details of the alterations are recorded in this document, which gives clear guidelines regarding the work and any relevant conditions.
The complexity of the Licence will depend on the scope of the proposed changes.
There are many reasons why a licence to alter could be require which mainly involve some form of structural alteration – including;
• Altering the internal structure eg changing to room sizes or moving – especially work that fundamentally alters the layout of your flat eg converting a one bed to a two bed flat
• External alterations eg replacement windows
• Cutting through or removing a wall
• Fitting hard floors [ new wood floors or floorboards are likely to need consent – but your lease may permit, for example, a new laminate floor)
• Installing a new heating system
• Adding a new bathroom
• Moving or installing a new kitchen
More minor changes probably won’t need a licence to alter. In particular, minor cosmetic works and repairs and interior painting and decorating probably won’t need the formal permission of your freeholder. But don’t take any chances – make sure you read your lease before you start work.
And even if your lease does require the formal permission of your freeholder, you may find, if the changes are relatively minor, that your freeholder will be prepared to deal with it by issuing a simple letter licence for works.
But beware. Your lease will not specifically cover each and every eventuality. so, for example, you might need to consider if the windows and front door is included within your demised premises (i.e your property) as sometimes these are excluded. That’s an example of the kind of uncertainty where you’re going to need the advice of an experienced solicitor.
What is a “structural alteration”?
That’s a good question – and what actually constitutes a “structural alteration” may not always be clear. As a result, if you are any doubt, it’s always sensible to be cautious and err on the side of caution. So if you find yourself in that situation, make sure you get a licence to alter from your freeholder before starting any building work.
What about any changes to communal areas?
Subject what it actually says in your lease, it’s likely that even if you have access to any shared area such as a private garden or loft space, you won’t automatically necessarily have any legal rights over it.
How do I go about obtaining a Licence to Alter my leasehold property?
The first step is to read your lease carefully – to make sure you actually need a licence and if so is there a particular process set out for gaining permission to the changes you are planning. And bear in mind that some types of alteration, particular to the structure of your flat or changes that significantly affect the look of your block, could simply be entirely prohibited in the lease.
And it’s important to realise that a licence to alter is not the same thing as planning permission.
And making sure that you get the necessary planning permission, regulatory approvals and statutory consents and that the nature of the alterations or works and the provisions of the licence are agreeable to your landlord and any other leaseholders, head lessors and your mortgage provider can be a complex undertaking.
Again, using a specialist leasehold solicitor will help ensure that you don’t miss any of these requirements. A solicitor specialising in licence to alter issues will ensure that every requirement for a successful application is correctly fulfilled whilst keeping your costs to the minimum.
What will my solicitor do to enable me to carry out my proposed alterations?
Among the factors that your solicitor will need to deal with (and your landlord will undoubtedly have diligently double-checked) are:
• Confirming that the lease permits the landlord to grant Licences for Alteration
• That the nature of the proposed works/alterations is permissible under the terms of the lease (some leases will not allow for licences for structural alterations)
• Getting advice from a surveyor regarding the effects of the works/alterations on adjoining flats/properties. Such effects might include noise, access, inconvenience and the potential for damage
• Getting the necessary planning permission
• Getting the necessary regulatory approvals
• Getting the necessary statutory consents
• Ensuring the Licence for Alterations permits the landlord the rights to inspect the works and specify how and to what level of quality they are carried out
• Making sure that full technical details of the proposed alterations/works including plans showing as existing and as proposed, usually to a scale of 1:50 are professionally prepared and sent to your landlord
Will my landlord/freeholder agree to a Licence to Alter?
Landlords will generally agree to grant Licences for Alterations if:
• Your solicitor has diligently performed his responsibilities as detailed above
• They are assured that the effects of your proposed alterations will not be to undermine the value of their reversionary interest in the property
• The alternations/works will not jeopardise the safety of the building when balanced against your investment in improving your property
• That your alterations will not cause a noise or other type of nuisance
Click here to read more about nuisance actions
How long will it take to get the licence to alter?
The length of the process will be dependent both on the complexity of the proposed alterations/works and on the speed of those involved – but generally tend not to exceed two months from the date the plans are deposited.
How do I find my freeholder’s contact details?
The 1st place to look is your service charge demand. That must include the name and address of your freeholder.
Failing that, you can carry out a search at the Land Registry, or Companies House if your freeholder is a limited company.
In the unlikely event that none of these work, it might be best to speak to a solicitor – or you could 1st appoint an enquiry agent to track the freehold down. But whatever you do, if you can’t immediately contact your freeholder, don’t just assume you have the right to carry out any alterations. Don’t take any chances – getting this wrong could prove very expensive
What will happen if it all goes wrong?
You should be aware that any licence for alterations as a binding legal document. That’s why it is usually a very good idea for an experience solicitor to draw one up for you.
A breach of license to alterations refers to a violation or non-compliance with the terms and conditions of a license agreement for making changes or modifications to a property or structure. This could include making unauthorized renovations or additions to a building, or failing to adhere to specific requirements or guidelines outlined in the license agreement.
Should a leaseholder be granted a Licence for Alterations and then fail to undertake the alterations in accordance with that licence, the landlord has the right to withdraw the licence as the leaseholder will be in breach of his lease.
This kind of situation, especially if the leaseholder is unwilling or unable to restore the property to an ‘as was’ condition could potentially, in the final instance, result in the leaseholder exposing themselves to forfeiture and possession actions by their landlord.
The consequences of carrying out alterations without the necessary licence could be significant.
You may be able to get a retrospective licence (see below),although that will probably cost you. And your freeholder may insist that you put the property back in the condition it was before the alterations – or alternatively require compensation for any loss in value of their property resulting from the changes. And that’s apart from the risk of forfeiture or possession!
None of these possible outcomes are good for you – and could prove very expensive.
That’s why it is so important that;
- you really understand your lease and in particular any “covenants” or restrictions contained in it, and
- that you stick to the correct procedure for securing your freeholder is concerned
Alterations without a licence to alter? Will that affect my ability to sell my flat?
Yes – if your lease requires a licence for alterations and you’ve gone ahead and done the work without it, you are likely to find it tough to find a purchaser. Your buyer’s solicitors will almost certainly want to see proof that you have complied with the terms of your lease. and if you can’t provide that evidence, you may lose your purchaser.
Click here to find out more about lease forfeiture and possession.
Altering my leasehold flat – is my landlord’s consent all I need?
Depending on a number of factors including the lease, your individual circumstances, the terms of your mortgage and on the alterations you are planning, you may need other consents [in addition to the consent of your landlord ] before starting building work.
In particular you need to consider the whether you need consent in respect of following;
- The freeholder – if your landlord is not the freeholder, and is a leaseholder themselves, then you may well need the freeholder’s permission
- Bank or mortgagee consent – if you have a mortgage or loan secured on your flat, it’s possible you could need, in certain circumstances, the approval of the bank or mortgage company for any alterations.
- Planning permission – while most internal alterations shouldn’t require planning consent, do be careful if you’re extending your property in any way or carrying out any substantial work to the exterior of the building. Planning permission could be required.
- Building Control Approval – if you are planning to carry out more substantial work which is defined as ‘building work’ in the building regulations, you will need to apply for approval.
- Party wall approval – this could be required in certain circumstances, including if any planned building work might have an effect upon the structural strength of the party wall or cause damage to your neighbour’s side of the wall
- Listed Building Consent – Any substantial alteration to listed buildings is risky thing to do without professional advice. Consent is often required even to internal alterations – especially if they affect the character of the building. Failing to do so could lead to a criminal prosecution – conviction could result in an unlimited fine and up to 2 years in prison
My lease simply prevents me from making my proposed alteration entirely. Can I do anything?
Pobably not – because your freeholder is entitled to rely on the lease. However, it might be worth contacting your freeholder to see if they might be prepared to waive the restriction in the lease entirely – though you might have to pay for the privilege.
I co-own a share of freehold – will a simple email from the other freeholders be enough for me to carry on works on the flat with permission?
Even if you own a share of the freehold, you are still also a leaseholder – still subject to your flat lease, like any other leaseholder. And that means, depending on the wording of the lease, you will still need the formal consent of the other freehold-owners’ before you make any significant changes or alterations or improvements.
A simple email may be enough, but it’s very risky. Whilst there is no strict format of consent required, it is often advisable to enter into a formal Licence of Alterations between the respective parties.
This Deed ensures that all elements of the agreed work are covered and leaves little room for future disputes ; an informal email on the other hand is likely to be short and vague which could cause issues later down the line.
When you come to sell your property, a buyer’s conveyancer will likely ask for proof of consent for the works ; a licence of alterations is the safest method to ensure the form of consent is not questioned.
Do licence for alterations routinely include conditions?
Depending on the proposed work, yes there may well be conditions that the freeholder will insist on if they are to permit the changes you’re proposing. These are largely to protect their own interests and those of other leaseholders.
Amongst the common kind of restrictions contained in a Licence to Alter, are the following:
• ensuring there some form of temporary protection in your block shared areas – e.g. some form of protective sheeting stairs and entrance
• cleaning up the mess left in communal areas when the work has finished
• limiting tools to just hand tools or non-percussive tools to be noise levels down and to reduce risk of any unforeseen damage to the building
• restricting working hours to specified times – typically during the working day, Monday to Friday
• providing building control certificates
What is a retrospective licence to alter?
These come into play when alterations to your flat have already been made – by you or a previous owner – or are in the process of being carried out, all without consent from your freeholder in the form of a relevant licence to alter.
If you are in this situation, you really do need to let your freeholder know about the alterations as soon as possible. In theory, and depending on contents of your particular lease, it is possible that your freeholder could try to forfeit your lease – i.e. to terminate your lease completely and immediately, regardless of the remaining term and without needing to pay any compensation to you.
However thankfully, in reality, forfeiture in this way is highly unusual.
However, there is a downside. You will still need a licence – and that will be a retrospective licence. And to get that licence you will need to compensate your freeholder to remedy that breach of the lease. You will need to provide full details to your freeholder of the alterations already carried out. You are not in a terribly strong negotiating position – because you have breached your lease. However normally these kind of retrospective licences are agreed between the parties on reasonable terms.
Need retrospective permission for some alterations? Our team can help you
Retrospective licences – our top tip
If you are aware of the need for retrospective licence and you are thinking of selling your flat, get hold of that licence ASAP. Or you risk problems with your sale – and you give more negotiating power to your freeholder.
Need specialist advice on a Licence to Alter ? Call us now
When it comes to getting your landlord’s consent for alterations, our specialist property team act for tenants, landlords, freeholder and developers throughout the UK.
• Call our team on FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 for FREE initial advice or
• Complete the contact form below – or we can arrange to ring you back when it suits you