We’ve heard a number of horror stories recently about residents being charged thousands of pounds for permission to build a loft extension. Two people were asked to pay £5,000 and one £10,000. To put this in perspective, consent was granted for £312 in 2007, and for £200 in 2008. So that’s a 5,000% increase in just 6 years!
If you have received similar inflated charges, let us know. Or alternatively if you have received consent for a loft or other alterations, please let us know what the cost was and when. With this information we can help people challenge current and future claims. We are also looking into getting a legal opinion on this as a group. Watch this space.
Our enquires suggest the freeholder has no legal right to make these extraordinary claims and we advise anyone receiving one to take legal advice. You can email email@example.com for free advice. You can also phone them but be prepared to wait in a queue. Details here.
The law says that charges by the freeholder need to be based on some kind of actual cost. For instance if it takes a surveyor an hour to peruse the plans, that time could be claimed as a legitimate expense. But freeholders are not entitled to simply add a premium because they think they can get away with it!
If you’re thinking of extending the first step is to check your lease to see if the loft is part of the ‘demised premises’, i.e. part of the flat. If you’re not sure email a copy of your lease (yes all of it!) to firstname.lastname@example.org who should be able to tell you.
If it is, you just need consent for alterations, and this should not be unreasonably refused. If the loft is not part of the demised premises, you would need a deed of variation to include it, and you should ask a solicitor about the cost for this.
How do you challenge an unreasonable claim? In theory tribunals are there to settle disputes between leaseholders and freeholders and the initial cost is meant to be affordable. It varies with the amount in dispute but to challenge a £10,000 charge would be about £250.
But you also need to consider whether you need a solicitor. With some more complex disputes, it’s not unknown for the freeholder to arrive with an impressive legal team, putting an ordinary non-legally trained leaseholder at a disadvantage. And this is one of the many problems with current leasehold law. We would like to think a tribunal could spot the injustice here in a nanosecond, but again it’s worth getting legal advice. You can find a list of leasehold specialists on www.alep.org.uk.
If a tribunal decides that a charge is unreasonable that decision is binding on the two parties at the tribunal. Unfortunately the decision would not be binding on requests by other leaseholders. However once the decision is recorded, it’s public knowledge and can be referenced in other challenges.