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Licence for alterations to your lease

by Daniela Litsova — Posted on 26 June, 2017

A comprehensive overview of licence for alterations for loft conversions and other works

What is a Licence to Alter?

Under most residential leases a tenant is required to obtain consent from the landlord and/or the management company before making any alterations to his/her property. It’s a simple process which is also known as “An Application for a Licence for Alterations”.

Whether or not consent (a licence to alter) is required will be determined by (i) the scope of works and (ii) what the lease says.

In most leases, the landlord will place a restriction on the extent of alteration, extension or other changes and improvements to a property that the tenant can undertake during the term of the lease without first gaining landlord’s consent.

The most common alterations which would normally require a Licence to Alter (under most leases) include:

  • altering the structure
  • installing additional sanitary facilities
  • installing new heating or alternative service installations
  • cutting through an external wall
  • removing any wall, solid or partition wall
  • changing any windows
  • Please note the above is not an exhaustive list and much will depend on the exact wording of the lease.

Loft Conversions

Many houses are subject to restrictive covenants contained in old deeds. Although it is unlikely that these will prohibit the conversion of a loft to a room, deeds may contain provisions requiring consent to be obtained for any external extensions to a property from the original builder. If a loft conversion has involved an alteration to the roof then such a provision could be applicable. If a solicitor thinks there is a potential risk then indemnity insurance will usually provide a quick answer.

When is consent required?

Most leases will usually contain one of three provisions (or a combination of the three) in relation to alterations:

  • Absolute Covenant: prohibits the alteration absolutely. Only if the landlord is prepared to waive the clause will the tenant be able to make alterations;
  • Qualified Covenant: prohibits alterations except with the landlord’s consent;
  • Fully Qualified Covenant: provides that the alteration may only take place with the landlord’s consent which, the clause specifies, must not be unreasonably withheld.

If the lease is silent on the question of alterations then the tenant is free to carry out the alterations as he or she chooses.

The Landlord and Tenant Acts of 1927 and 1954 also require that landlord’s consent is not unreasonably withheld and in some circumstances, for example, alterations necessary in order to comply with statute, cannot be withheld. Alterations undertaken by tenants during a lease term (both with and without landlord’s consent) are also a common source of dilapidations disputes, claims and financial burdens for the parties.

Why do you need a Licence to Alter?

From a tenant’s point of view, it is important to establish whether or not a licence to alter is required prior to the commencement of the works as:

  • You will almost certainly be in breach of lease terms and will expose yourself to the possibility of enforcement action being taken against you;
  • You may experience difficulties in selling your property if you have made unregulated changes to the demise of your property; and
  • It may be difficult and more costly to seek to apply retrospectively for consent once the works have been finalised.

For obvious reasons, there are precautions and procedures that need to be followed before a Licence should be granted.

The aim of the Licence to Alter is to record all works that alter the tenant’s demise.

Tenant’s Responsibilities

As the tenant, you are responsible for setting out the proposed scope of works to the landlord, which will typically require the preparation of design drawings, structural drawings, building services drawings and specifications. The tenant is also responsible for providing an undertaking that all works will be carried out in compliance with all relevant statutes planning consent, bye-laws, building regulations and in accordance with good working practices.

Once the scope of works, drawings and specifications have been approved by the landlord then all such information will be recorded in the Licence to Alter. Any subsequent design or specification change by the tenant will require either an addendum to the granted Licence to Alter, or a new Licence to Alter will be required.

Subject to the conditions of the lease it is normal to have a reinstatement clause, whereby the tenant has an obligation to reinstate their demise to how it was prior to occupation. All works would be at the tenant’s own cost.

The Licence to Alter has a very important financial relevance, therefore the tenant and landlord have a combined invested interest to ensure the accuracy of the “As Built” drawings and specifications to avoid any dispute at the expiry of the Lease.

The complexity of the tenant’s proposed scope of works will determine whether the landlord decides to appoint his own professional team to review and approve any such designs, calculations or specifications put forward by the tenant. The cost incurred by the landlord for procuring such advice is normally made chargeable to the tenant under the terms of the lease terms.

Landlord’s Duties

The Licence to Alter is normally prepared by the landlord’s solicitor and issued to the tenants’ professional team for approval. The landlord’s cost for preparing the Licence to Alter is chargeable to the tenant.

In respect of providing consent, the legislation imposes positive duties on the landlord who receive an application for consent, where consent is not to be unreasonably withheld. Those duties are as follows:

  • To give consent except where it is reasonable not to;
  • To give written notice of the tenant of the decision as to whether consent is to be granted, together with any conditions, which themselves must be reasonable;
  • If consent is withheld to supply reasons for withholding it;
  • To undertake the above duties within a reasonable period of time.

The burden of proof in any litigation over whether or not the landlord is withholding consent unreasonably will usually be on the landlord to show that the duties have been complied with.

How we can help

Starck Uberoi has vast experience in dealing with drafting and altering leases. To book an appointment with one of our solicitors, please call 020 8840 6640 or email us at solicitor@starckuberoi.co.uk. We are based in Ealing, our office is located 10 minutes from Ealing Broadway Station.

About Daniela Litsova

Daniela is a dual-qualified English and Bulgarian solicitor. She has been with our firm for a number of years and has since developed the reputation of being a reliable and knowledgeable solicitor. Daniela is part of our busy conveyancing team, specialising in Bridging Loans and acting for both Sellers and Buyers in residential and commercial transactions. She also advises clients in landlord and tenant matters, dilapidation & forfeiture claims and lease extensions. Daniela is also a specialist in new build transactions including shared ownership and Help to Buy Schemes for First Time Buyers. Having previously qualified as a lawyer in Bulgaria, Daniela has had a lot of previous experience in dealing with British overseas property buyers. In her spare time, she enjoys travelling.