The Leasehold Advisory Service (or LEASE), is a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) funded by Government which provides free advice to anyone about the legal framework operating over leasehold property in England. The organisation provides advice by telephone ( 020 7832 2500), letter, email, or in person at their London office (Fleetbank House, 2-6 Salisbury Square, London, EC4Y 8JX). You can call them for advice from 9-5 Monday to Friday.
Leasehold, Freehold and Lease Agreements
Leases operate on properties where the buyer only purchases the building and not the ground it is built on. The leasee owns the property and the freeholder owns the land it stands on. When the property was first purchased it will have come with a lease which gives the property owner the right to rent the land their home stands on for a certain period of time.
Sometimes the freeholder will charge a ‘ground rent’ to the lease holder and sometimes nothing or an insignificant amount of rent is paid (so called pepper corn rent).
All the rights, obligations, rents and charges should be laid out in a lease agreement which is a document both parties sign. Exactly what is covered in these agreements can differ. Some agreements will spell out who is responsible for certain insurance costs, maintenance and what happens if a tenant wants to extend the life of their lease.
If the lease does set out roles and responsibilities clearly disagreements and disputes can arise between leaseholders in the same building or between lease holders and freeholders. Sometimes the terms or charges included in a lease can be challenged if they are unlawful and/or unfair. There are some laws that determine what should happen in cases of dispute which can be resolved via informal discussion, negotiation led by experienced professionals, arbitration and tribunals. This is where the Leasehold Advisory Service can help. They offer advice about expected costs, normal rights and responsibilities of both parties, legal process and what to do next.
Lease Extension & Enfranchisement
Each lease will have had a certain life on it. Every year a person owns the property the life of their lease will reduce. The person who owns the property has to have a lease from the freeholder to continue to live in their property. So when the lease life comes to an end the property owner has to buy the right to another lease from the freeholder. This can be very expensive. However the longer the remaining life on the lease at the time of extension – the cheaper it is to extend. Again the leasehold advisory service can provide guides on the process for extension, a really useful extension cost calculator, help with arbitration or tribunals and advice about what to do if your freeholder is ignoring you.
In certain cases a group of leaseholders in the same property with the same freeholder have the legal right to buy the freehold. This is called collective enfranchisement. The Advisory Service can offer help and advice on this process.
The Leasehold Advisory Service website houses an extensive directory of professionals and experienced advisors who can provide advice, valuations, cost estimated, assist in negotiations and manage arbitrations and tribunals on your behalf. It is important to choose an advisor who is experienced in lease extensions and has worked in your area as costs and values vary greatly, particularly in Central London. Choose a firm who is prepared to offer a free initial consultation so they can assess properly if they can help you and can get the opportunity to see what they are like. If possible speak to a few so you can compare their approaches.
Their website is full of useful information. The cover the basics like understanding your lease agreement, service charges, appointing agents, rent demands, tribunals and extension. All the guides in their publications section are clearly written and easy to understand with some very useful examples to help you understand how it works.
Lease Extension Calculator
Enter your approximate location, ground, rent, lease life and property value and you can obtain an estimate of the cost to extend your lease. Online calculators can be useful for buyers as it illustrates how much more expensive it gets to extend a lease that has less than 8- years left to run, however, you have to be aware they are only automated estimates and they don’t compare with using a professional lease extension surveyor and valuer (e.g. lease extension). However you choose to proceed the best advice is almost always ‘do it early, do it soon’.