Most leases say that permission is needed (from the freeholder or their managing agent) to make structural alterations.
This is usually interpreted to mean knocking walls down, although some leases are more specific and may require permission for repair or replacement of windows. First of all, read the lease. If it’s ambiguous (and most are) send a copy to Lease Advice, whose solicitors should be able to clarify it for you free of charge. If you simply call Freehold Managers they tend to ask for a £140 fee just to find out if they require permission!
Warner loft conversions
A few years ago, Warner flat leaseholders were being asked to pay excessive premiums between £5,000 and £15,000 for permission to do a loft conversion. There were several other problems such as the permissions process dragging on for months, and additional random payments being required such as a surveyor fee, cost of drafting the licence.
After a number of complaints Freehold Managers did offer an apology, as well as publishing this set of guidelines on their permissions process. Guide to Process for Consent & Alterations @ June 2015. They contacted us in July 2018 to say this guide is now out of date but have not provided a link to the updated process.
Although most leases say permission is not to be unreasonably withheld, in practice challenging an excessive premium at a tribunal can cost as much or more as the sum in question. But here’s the good news. In 2015 we asked the tribunal if several households with the same complaint against the same managing agent could be heard together, and the answer was yes.
So if you think the cost of permission is too high, email us, or post on the Facebook group, and if we can organise enough people the cost of a tribunal challenge would become affordable. And if the managing agent doesn’t have a good case, who knows, they may become more willing to negotiate.
Once you’ve received a licence from the freeholder, your next step should be to get in touch with the council. This is normally a much easier process and your builder or architect should be familiar with it. The building regs team sends inspectors at various stages of the process to make sure the work is done to a good standard and is safe. On completion they issue a certificate. If you ever decide to sell your property, a prospective buyer will ask to see this so it’s definitely worth having.