Property Nightmare: The Truth About Leasehold

Channel 4 Dispatches turned its attention to the leasehold property sector last night, examining in particular the issues surrounding service charges sought from those people owning their homes on a long leasehold, typically 99 years. You may be able to catch it still if you have access to 4oD. I recommend it for highlighting a very real problem that exists that otherwise isn't well publicised.

A summary of the programme and viewer comments can be found on the Channel 4 website:

The programme discussed some examples of suspect practices by Freeholders/Managing Agents, and showed unsuspecting home owners being presented with astronomical invoices for capital repairs.Those homeowners are often people in no position to meet that expenditure and were placed in no position to budget for them.

There has been a huge increase of leasehold property ownership in this country over the last thirty years. A perfect storm is brewing - buildings are becoming older and require capital expenditure; tough economic times result in pressure on both freeholders' and leaseholders' abilities to fund. If not all can contribute, what happens to the buildings?

Housing Minister Grant Shapps was interviewed and asked if new laws would be introduced to protect lessees. He was naturally keen to align himself with the victims of those overcharged, but indicated that there would be no legislation introduced to clamp down on the practices.

In reality, there is already protection in place through comprehensive legislation, to insist Freeholders charge only in accordance with the lease, and that Leaseholders have an avenue of redress where challenge is needed the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal.

Television loves a story where they can get 'nightmare from hell' or 'disaster' in the title. They prefer to show the problem rather than the solution; that's their job.

Our job is to help you find the solution.

Before you buy:

  1. Choose a solicitor with solid experience of leasehold conveyancing who will ensure service charges are paid up-to-date, assess recent charges made, and consider sinking fund arrangements monies held to defray future large expenditure. Call Emsleys' Conveyancing team on 0113 264 4414 for details.
  1. Have a comprehensive survey carried out by an experienced surveyor who will be able to advise you as to potential future liabilities you may incur. Typically this will be for roof and window replacements which are naturally responsible for the greatest expenditure. We can assist you in finding a suitably qualified surveyor.

Once you own:

  1. If you are unsatisfied with your service charges, ask the Freeholder for a breakdown to make sure that they are fair and reasonable and charged in accordance with the lease. A Freeholder can only charge you for expenditure that they have authority under the lease to incur. If you don't understand the response, ask again.

  2. Items of expenditure in excess of £250 per flat must, by law, be subject to consultation before a contractor is instructed. If they are not, you can challenge this.

  3. If you don't feel your service charges are fair and reasonable, you can apply to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal.

  4. Consult the Property Disputes team at Emsleys for a fixed fee, diagnostic assessment of your rights and responsibilities on 0113 201 4900.
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