Leasehold law explained

If you are a leaseholder, you own the lease to your home but the freeholder is the legal owner of the land on which the building is situated. Leaseholders are sometimes referred to as 'tenants' or 'lessees'. Freeholders can also be called 'landlords' or 'lessors'.

The law relating to leasehold properties can be very complicated. You may need help if you want to resolve a dispute with your freeholder. You may be able to get advice and help from the Leasehold Advisory Service, a solicitor or an advice centre in your area.

What is the lease?

The lease is a legal contract between the freeholder and the leaseholder. It explains the rights and responsibilities both you and the freeholder have and will normally explain:

  • how much ground rent you have to pay and when
  • how any service charges are calculated (and how they are paid)
  • whether service charges and/or ground rent can be increased and, if so, how
  • what repairs you are responsible for
  • how repairs to the structure and shared areas of the building are arranged and paid for
  • who is responsible for arranging (and paying for) buildings insurance
  • whether you have to get the freeholder's permission if you want to rent out your home or make alterations.

This information may be useful if you have a disagreement with the freeholder. Every lease is different, so it's important to check what it says. If you don't have a copy, you can get one from the solicitor who did the legal work when you bought your home and/or from the freeholder. Get advice in person if there is anything in your lease that you don't understand or isn't clear. If either you or the freeholder doesn't keep to the conditions of the lease, the other may be able to take legal action and/or seek compensation.

Check the lease before buying

Yes. If you are buying a leasehold property and there is a problem with the lease, it should be sorted out before contracts are exchanged. This might mean that the seller has to extend the lease of the flat or house, or sort out a dispute about repairs with the freeholder (or other leaseholders in the building). This could delay the sale but may be easier than dealing with the problems after you move in.

Leases are usually written in legal language and need to be carefully examined by a solicitor (or licensed conveyancer) before you buy. This should ensure there are no unreasonable conditions about how the property is managed.

What rights does the lease give a leaseholder?

The lease gives you the right to live in your home for a certain amount of time. The length of a lease can vary but usually starts at 99 years and can be as much as 999 years. The time left will reduce as the years go by and will eventually run out. For example, you may have 75 years left on a 99 year lease. The lease can be bought and sold at any time but it may be difficult to find a buyer if there are less than 60 or 70 years left to run. It's usually possible to extend the lease but this can be expensive.

What expenses do leaseholders have to pay?

Leaseholders normally have to pay charges to the freeholder or to a property company acting on her/his behalf (a managing agent). Charges vary from one property to another and can be very expensive. Charges may include:

  • ground rent for the land on which the property is built
  • service charges for repairs, cleaning and maintenance
  • a proportion of the buildings insurance taken out by the freeholder
  • a contribution to a 'sinking fund' to cover the cost of major repair works.

If what your lease says about repairs, maintenance, insurance or service charges is unfair or doesn't make clear what responsibilities you have, get advice. Use our directory to find an adviser in your area.

Who is the freeholder?

The freeholder owns the land on which your home is built and has the right to collect ground rent and service charges from any leaseholders in the building. The freeholder could be an individual, a private company, a council or a housing association. The freeholder may live in the same building but this is unusual. Many leaseholders have no direct contact with the freeholder and deal with a managing agent instead. However, all leaseholders have the right to know:

  • the name of their freeholder
  • an address in England or Wales where s/he can be contacted.

You may need this information if you want to take action against your freeholder because you think the charges you have to pay are too high or if you want to extend your lease. If you don't have this information, see below.

How to find out who the freeholder is

A leaseholder is entitled to know the name and address of their freeholder. If the freeholder or managing agent withholds this information, they may be committing a criminal offence. Every time the freeholder sends service charge bills they must provide a name and UK contact address. If the bills come from a managing agent, you can ask them for your freeholder's contact details. If you are not provided with this information, you don't have to fulfil some of the obligations under the lease - for example, the payment of ground rent or service charges (you should keep this money aside, however, because those charges will become due once the information is provided).

If you are still having difficulties getting your freeholder's contact details you could try:

  • contacting the Land Registry. You can do this online by filling in a form and paying a small fee
  • applying to the county court for an order appointing a manager of the freehold. If this happens a Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) will decide the terms

More general information about residential leaseholds is available from Gov.uk.

Can the freeholder sell the freehold?

The freeholder can sell the freehold (sometimes called 'selling the ground rent') if s/he wants to. However, s/he normally has to offer the leaseholders in the building the opportunity to buy it first. Buying the freehold, or a share in the freehold, would give you more control over the management of your building but if it is sold to someone else your lease will remain basically the same, unless you agree to change it.

Eviction by a freeholder

It is very rare for a freeholder to repossess a leasehold property. Your freeholder can normally only evict you if all of the following points are met:

  • you break one of the conditions of your lease (such as paying ground rent)
  • your lease says it can be ended ('forfeited')
  • the freeholder follows the correct procedure.

The freeholder has to give you formal written notice and get a court order before you can be evicted. Even if s/he can prove you broke your lease, you can ask the court to stop the eviction. Contact a solicitor immediately if you are in this situation - find one through the Legal Adviser Finder.

If a lease runs out

If your lease has already run out, you may be able to negotiate a new one. It's better to do this if you can, but if it's not possible, you can probably stay in your home as an assured tenant. If you are in this situation, get advice immediately.

Leasehold advice and help

If you are having problems with a freeholder or are not sure of your rights, you may be able to get help from the Leasehold Advisory Service, a solicitor or an advice centre in your area. Use our directory to find an adviser in your area.

Commonhold

Commonhold is a new type of ownership which gives leaseholders more rights.

Commonhold ownership means that people who buy new purpose-built flats will collectively own the freehold of their building. It also makes it easier for leaseholders of older properties to:

  • buy a share of the freehold
  • take over the management of their building
  • challenge service charges.

Last updated: 1 January 2014