When you own the freehold of a property, you have complete freedom to deal with the scope and timing of maintenance and repairs as you see fit. Owning a property under a leaseholder is a different proposition and brings with it a variety of difficulties/challenges.
Essentially, the lease should set out the extent to which the building is demised to leaseholder and for which they will be directly responsible. Broadly speaking, this will be the interior of the flat. Beyond this, it is likely that the leaseholder will have a responsibility to contribute to the cost of maintaining the structural fabric, the exterior elements, the grounds and the internal common parts.
The maintenance and repair of these areas becomes the responsibility of the freeholder to manage in consultation with the leaseholders. There are other statutory duties relating to fire risk assessments and safety management, asbestos management and general health and safety that also need to be addressed.
With many blocks, there will be a management company engaged to deal with this and the leaseholders can choose to rely upon them to perform their role and pay their contribution to the costs via service charges accordingly. If the leaseholders choose to get involved there are consultation procedures and there can be opportunities to seek the right to manage the block as a group of leaseholders.
There are also many flats in London, especially those that are converted from older houses and comprise two or three flats, where the freehold is shared between the leaseholders.
Whether the freehold is held by an individual, a company or collectively by the leaseholders, the condition and maintenance of a building can throw up a variety of issues and, just as problematic, a variety of opinions. For example, the owner of a top floor flat will be sensitive to issues with the roof of a building, whereas a basement flat owner will naturally view this as less of a priority.
Understanding the building and its particular requirements is important for the following reasons:
Failure to deal with such issues is an all too familiar sight when undertaking surveys for prospective purchasers of flats.
It is important that the leaseholders seek independent professional advice from someone with suitable experience and who does not have a vested interest in gaining an instruction for repair work.
As a Chartered Building Surveyor I am often called out to provide advice on a specific defect, such as a roofing problem, where detailed and specific advice is given about the nature of construction, the defect and the most appropriate repair options. For example, this week I have inspected a Victorian block of 12 flats to give specific advice about the condition, repair and protection of terracotta elements within the external walls.
In most circumstances, I would suggest that a good first step would be to take stock by having a survey undertaken to assess the whole of the building, followed up with a report that is designed to inform the client about the significance and priority of various repairs required now and within the forseeable future.
This will normally involve prioritising repairs as follows:
Very often this is carried out in tandem with the input of other specialists such as electricians, asbestos specialists, lift engineers and the like.
This allows the urgent issues to be identified in advance and addressed as soon as practical rather than reactive ‘firefighting’.
This planned maintenance approach can allow costs and raising of funds to be spread, rather than resulting in sudden large spikes in service charges that leaseholders or shared freeholders can find a nasty surprise.
Shaun Blake is a Chartered Building Surveyor specialising in full building surveys, specific defect and planned maintenance reports.