Information for private sector leaseholders

Leaseholders have less control over how and when their homes are maintained. Even those who own a share of the freehold will have to consider the views of their fellow lessees when planning maintenance or repair.

Generally, you will be able to maintain the interior of your home – heating, plumbing, wiring, decorative condition, etc – to suit yourself, as long as you keep to the terms of your lease. The common parts, roof, foundation and exterior are generally the responsibility of the freeholder (although it is a feature of leasehold that the freeholder then passes the costs back to the leaseholders).  responsibility for windows are a little less clear - especially in older leases - but the leaseholder will normally be responsible for replacing broken glass. If you have any doubts about who is responsible for a particular item of repair, you should check your lease carefully.

The best freeholders (or their managing agents) will have a rolling plan of maintenance which leaseholders will be kept informed about. Since the Commonhold & Leasehold Reform Act 2002, there are a number of legal requirements around information and consultation about major works and long term contracts. If your landlord or managing agent disagrees with your comments or representations in the consultation process, they must clearly explain why they have chosen to take a different course of action. However, they may still end up making decisions that you do not agree with, do work which you do not want done and incur costs which you will have to pay.

Sometimes, it will be the council who decides that work needs to be done, especially if you live in a converted property where other flats are rented on short term lets. This would most likely relate to fire precaution work, but could also deal with anything potentially dangerous in the common parts (broken banisters, dangerous carpeting, etc), or serious disrepair to the main structure. Failure to comply with council notices is a criminal offence, so your freeholder will have to comply, and the costs will generally be passed on in the service charge. The council will try to ensure that the leaseholders are informed and that sufficient time is given for the proper consultation to be carried out before any work has to be done.

Leaseholders in dispute with their freeholder can apply to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal for adjudication. However, this is a legal process and the lessee will have to show clear evidence as to why the charges being made or the work being done are unreasonable. You would be strongly advised to take legal advice before taking this course of action.

Once you understand what your problem is and how it might be resolved, you may need to employ either a surveyor or a solicitor to take your problem forward.

There is a large book called Residential Long Leaseholders – a guide to your rights and responsibilities published by the Department of Communities & Local Government.  This is free and may be available from council offices and advice agencies as well as from the DCLG (http://www.communities.gov.uk/corporate/publications/all/). This book is not a categorical legal interpretation of leasehold law, but does provide an easily understandable overview of the long leasehold system and the rights and remedies available to leaseholders and service charge payers.

The best source of information and advice for leaseholders is Lease, the national Leasehold Advice Service. Their services are free but in high demand. However, they do publish a large number of detailed booklets on various aspects of leasehold law. These can be downloaded directly from www.lease-advice.org or ordered by phone on 020 7383 9800.