Can I install a new bathroom in my leasehold property without risking my landlord taking me to court and seizing my home?
I own a flat in a converted London house and it is leasehold. I’d like to put in a new bathroom after the coronavirus lockdown is finished, but my lease suggests that I must get permission to do this from the freeholder.
What would happen if I didn’t do that, I recently read a story about someone who had their flat seized in a dispute over redecorating without permission, could that really end up happening to me?
Do leaseholders need to check with their freeholder if they can install a new bathroom?
MailOnline’s property expert Myra Butterworth replies: While many of us are spending so much time at home during lockdown, we may be realising that some areas of your property need updating.
For example, your bathroom may have taps that are dripping, cracked tiles on the floor and black mold around the bathroom sealant.
As such, you may be planning some renovation work for when lockdown has eased and such work can be completed.
However, there’s an added layer of complication for leaseholders as you may need to seek permission from your landlord or risk them seizing your property altogether.
If you think this is far fetched, it is worth examining the case of a leaseholder who was left with nothing after his £600,00 flat was seized in a ‘redecorating’ dispute.
Due to a forfeiture law, that allows a freeholder to take ownership of a property if there is a breach in the lease, the leaseholder was removed from his home.
However, he didn’t have his flat seized just because he redecorated – it happened after he failed to pay up or go to court on a dispute.
Lucy Barber, a partner and head of residential property at law firm Forsters, said: Most leases of residential apartments will have some sort of restriction on the type of alterations you can carry out.
There could be an absolute prohibition on alterations or alterations may be permitted with the landlord’s consent.
There may also be a distinction between structural and non-structural alterations, for example structural alterations may be prohibited entirely and non-structural may require landlord’s consent.
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1927 provides that where landlord’s consent is required to alterations, this may not be unreasonably withheld where the works are improvements.
Most alterations will be deemed improvements. When considering whether an alteration is an improvement, it is looked at from the tenant’s perspective and works that enhance a tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property will generally be considered an improvement.
Leaseholders may need to seek permission from their freeholder to carry out renovation works
Even if there is an absolute prohibition on alterations, a landlord may still decide to grant consent to works, but they are not under any obligation to do so, nor under any reasonable test.
Therefore, if you wish to replace the bathroom in your apartment, in order to ensure that you do not breach the terms of your lease it is extremely important to check your lease and if necessary obtain legal advice to establish whether the works you wish to carry out require consent.
If the consent of the landlord is required and you fail to obtain it, you would be in breach of your lease.
In these circumstances, one of the remedies available to the landlord is the ability to forfeit your lease.
This means that they may apply to the court to take possession of your apartment.
This step is however rarely taken, unless the breach is significant, and you do have the ability to apply for relief from forfeiture, which courts are usually inclined to give where you have made good the breach. In this case, this would mean reversing the works.
In order to avoid any such court proceedings and the associated costs, you should obtain landlord’s consent before you carry out the work.
If you do work without consent, you should remedy the breach as soon as you become aware of it and obtain retrospective consent.
If the landlord is under an obligation not to unreasonably withhold consent, then this should be achievable, but it is usually a more contentious process than when consent is obtained before the works.
As well as obtaining landlord’s consent, you should ensure that any planning or building regulation consents that are required are also obtained, as most leases will also require you to observe planning laws and building regulations and not to do so would result in you being in breach of your lease and again at risk of forfeiture.
You should also note that the landlord is also usually entitled to recover from you their reasonable professional costs in dealing with any application for their consent.