When you buy a leasehold property, you don’t own the property, or the land it resides on, you only own a lease. The lease you enter into is between yourself and the freeholder of the property. It pertains everything you need to know about the maintenance of the property, service charges, ground rent clauses and whether, and what changes you can make to the leasehold property.
But what changes can you exactly make? Surely you have more rights than a renter does? Owning a leasehold property does come with more challenges when you start looking at property updates and renovations. In this article I explore what changes you can make in a leasehold property and what to look out for.
What Changes Can I Make Without The Freeholders Permission?
Minor decorative and refurbishment changes can be made if you own a leasehold property that won’t require the freeholders permission beforehand. This includes things like decorating, painting, kitchen and bathroom refits.
Structural alterations, knocking down walls, adding extensions and even changing flooring usually require a freeholders permission, your lease will detail the full extent to what can and can’t be done with the freeholders permission.
Something that might seem basic such as changing flooring is in fact considered a major change, and one that must always go through the freeholder. Something I learnt during selling my flat.
My flat had an open plan kitchen and living room with wooden flooring, the lease was created when I purchased it and I never identified any issues with this. However, when it came to selling, something I was too naive to notice before became a big issue. The living room had a wooden floor, yet it was considered open plan as it was joined to the kitchen. The lease stated; “Not to live in the property unless all floors (other than kitchen and bathroom) are covered in good quality carpet and underlay”.
Well, the open plan living room had wooden flooring. Even though, arguably the kitchen was joined and had it too, the seller would not budge. The new freeholder also wouldn’t make any amendments to the lease without considering a deed of variation to make this amendment. Despite the fact this is how the flooring always was when they developed it.
Including an amendment of this nature to the lease was going to cost me £300 for a consent fee to have the wooden flooring allowed in the living room (as long as there was no noise complaints from below) or £840 for a deed of variation. I ended up getting the purchaser to accept an indemnity policy which was around £70 in the end. Much to my joy.
THIS is just to demonstrate how strict leases can be on leasehold properties, and how careful you need to be when making internal changes. Doing something without permission for now might not be a problem, but you can sure expect it to rear its ugly head when you come to selling, and it could end up costing you more money.
If you make a change without prior consent you may have to put the property back to how it was before, and you would be liable for all of the costs.
Moral of the story? Read the lease with a fine tooth comb. If in doubt, always ask your freeholder and go down the official route to make any alterations to your property, but expect a cost in doing so.
Can You Change Layout In Leasehold Property?
You should be able to change the layout of your existing leasehold property freely. However, if you want to extend the property, knock down walls or completely reconfigure, then you should consult your freeholder for permission.
Your lease should contain the specifics on what you are, and aren’t allowed to do to the property. If you do get permission to extend, you still need to seek planning permission and meet with building control obligations. If you are unsure, always consult your freeholder directly.
Can You Knock Down Walls In Leasehold Property?
With a leasehold property you must consider the party walls when making internal changes, you must nearly always seek permission from your freeholder if you want to knock down any walls.
You will usually find this information on what can be done in the ‘Alterations’ section of the lease.
Here is an example of what you might find in your lease. This was detailed in the lease of my flat and it makes it clear that absolutely no alteration internally is allowed without getting prior written consent of the landlord. If you choose to go ahead without seeking permission, you could face having to pay to put it back to what it was before, and you would not be able to sell the property without having this pre-written consent.
Can I Change The Kitchen In My Leasehold House?
If you are not intending to knock down any walls, or add an extension then you are allowed to change the kitchen layout or refit a new kitchen in your leasehold house.
Can I Change The Bathroom In My Leasehold Flat?
The bathroom in a leasehold flat can be ripped out and replaced without having to seek permission from your landlord. However, if you are looking to knock down walls or add an extension, you would need prior written consent from your landlord to do so.
You really are limited to the changes you can make to a leasehold property, whatever is dictated in your lease is what needs to be abided by. If you don’t like to be controlled with your renovation plans, a leasehold property may not be for you.
Always keep a copy of your lease that you can refer to when looking to make internal changes. As long as you follow the official process for requested changes and alterations, you won’t fall into any difficulties with your freeholder.