Leaseholder: Beware!

A great many people aspire to own property in prime central London.Here at Manse and Garret we deal with hundreds of hard-working clients every year who want to put their money into a safe and useful investment.

Those lucky enough to reach the lofty heights of the London property market often find themselves purchasing leasehold flats, not freehold houses – they’re more convenient as pied a terres which you can “lock up and leave”, they frequently make greater yields as investments and the ever-popular lateral flat provides larger open-plan living spaces more conducive to modern living. You would think that once you’ve worked hard enough to be able to afford just such an apartment, you should be free to use it however you wish.

However the perils of being a leaseholder, whether it’s for 999, 99 or 9 years, are always something to bear in mind. Leases often contain restrictions about how someone can live in their own flat. Most of the clauses are quite common and most people will have encountered them or heard of them; pets are frequently forbidden, the running of a business from a premises is prohibited and changes to the outside of your home often requires permission from the freeholder.

But leases can go even further than this – as the owners of a flat in Eaton Mansions have discovered, to their cost. These particular leaseholders installed a wooden floor in their £4.7 million flat in the exclusive red brick building, moments from the chic Sloane Square. They were subsequently sued by their downstairs neighbours who could no longer cope with the noise of constant footsteps above them. It turns out that the lease provided by the Grosvenor Estate – the freeholder of Eaton Mansions – prohibited the installation of wooden floors. Indeed, the lease went further, it required carpet in every room except the kitchen and the bathrooms. The case has been heard by the Court of Appeal and judgment has been reserved, so it remains to be seen whether the courts will come down on the side of carpet or hardwood flooring.

The lesson here, for anyone purchasing a flat, particularly when they are spending a significant amount of money, is to check the lease very closely. At Manse and Garret we spend much of our time combing through old leases looking for onerous clauses that could affect our clients. We would always seek to ensure that if someone won’t be able to lay a beautiful oak floor in their drawing room they know about it before any money changes hands!