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St James leasehold conveyancing: Q and A’s

There are only 72 years left on my lease in St James. I am keen to extend my lease but my landlord is can not be found. What options are available to me?

If you qualify, under the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 you can submit an application to the County Court for an order to dispense with the service of the initial notice. This will mean that your lease can be extended by the Court. However, you will be required to demonstrate that you or your lawyers have done all that could be expected to track down the lessor. On the whole an enquiry agent should be helpful to try and locate and to produce an expert document to be accepted by the court as proof that the landlord is indeed missing. It is advisable to get professional help from a solicitor in relation to investigating the landlord’s absence and the vesting order request to the County Court covering St James.

I have just appointed agents to market my basement apartment in St James.Conveyancing has not commenced but I have just received a half-yearly maintenance charge invoice – Do I pay up?

Your conveyancing lawyer is likely to suggest that you should clear the service charge as normal because all ground rent and service charges will be apportioned on completion, so you will be reimbursed by the buyer for the period running from after the completion date to the next payment date. Most managing agents will not acknowledge the buyer until the service charges have been paid and are up to date so it is important for both buyer and seller for the seller to show that they are up to date. Having a clear account will assist your cause and will leave you no worse off financially.

I am looking at a couple of apartments in St James which have in the region of 50 years unexpired on the leases. Should I regard a short lease as a deal breaker?

There are no two ways about it. A leasehold flat in St James is a wasting asset as a result of the reducing lease term. The closer the lease gets to zero years unexpired, the more it adversely affects the marketability of the premises. The majority of purchasers and banks, leases with under eighty years become less and less attractive. On a more positive note, leaseholders can extend their leases by serving a Section 42 Notice. One stipulation is that they must have owned the premises for two years (unlike a Section 13 notice for purchasing the freehold, when leaseholders can participate from day one of ownership). When successful, they will have the right to an extension of 90 years to the current term and ground rent is effectively reduced to zero. Before moving forward with a purchase of property with a short lease term remaining you should talk to a solicitor specialising in lease extensions and leasehold enfranchisement. We are are happy to put you in touch with St James conveyancing experts who will explain the options available to you during an initial telephone conversation free of charge. More often than not it is possible to negotiate informally with the freeholder to extend the lease They may agree to a smaller lump sum and an increase in the ground rent, but to shorter extension terms in return. You need to ensure that the agreed terms represent good long-term value compared with the standard benefits of the Section 42 Notice and that onerous clauses are not inserted into any redrafting of the lease.

I've recently bought a leasehold house in St James. Do I have any liability for service charges relating to a period prior to completion of my purchase?

In a situation where the service charge has already been demanded from the previous owner and they have not paid you would not usually be personally liable for the arrears. Strange as it may seem, your landlord may still be able to take action to forfeit the lease. It is an essential part of leasehold conveyancing for your conveyancer to be sure to have an up to date clear service charge receipt before completion of your purchase. If you have a mortgage this is likely to be a requirement of your lender.

If you purchase part way through an accounting year you may be liable for charges not yet demanded even if they relate to a period prior to your purchase. In such circumstances your conveyancer would normally arrange for the seller to set aside some money to cover their part of the period (usually called a service charge retention).

Do you have any top tips for leasehold conveyancing in St James from the point of view of saving time on the sale process?

  • A significant proportion of the frustration in leasehold conveyancing in St James can be avoided where you get in touch lawyers the minute your agents start marketing the property and ask them to collate the leasehold documentation needed by the purchasers’ solicitors.
  • Many freeholders or managing agents in St James charge for supplying management packs for a leasehold premises. You or your lawyers should discover the actual amount of the charges. The management pack can be applied for as soon as you have a buyer, thus reducing delays. The typical amount of time it takes to receive management information is three weeks. It is the most common cause of frustration in leasehold conveyancing in St James.
  • If you have carried out any alterations to the residence would they have required Landlord’s approval? Have you, for example laid down wooden flooring? Most leases in St James state that internal structural alterations or laying down wooden flooring require a licence from the Landlord approving such alterations. If you fail to have the paperwork in place do not communicate with the landlord without contacting your conveyancer before hand.
  • Some St James leases require Landlord’s consent to the sale and approval of the buyers. If this is the case, it would be prudent to place the estate agents on notice to make sure that the purchasers put in hand financial (bank) and professional references. Any bank reference should make it clear that the buyer is able to meet the annual service charge and the actual amount of the service charge should be quoted in the bank’s letter. You will therefore need to provide your estate agents with the actual amount of the service charge so that they can pass this information on to the purchasers or their solicitors.
  • You may think that you are aware of the number of years remaining on your lease but you should verify this by asking your solicitors. A buyer’s lawyer will not be happy to advise their client to proceed with the purchase of a leasehold property the remaining number of years is under 80 years. In the circumstances it is important at an as soon as possible that you identify whether the lease term for your property needs extending. If it does, contact your solicitors before you put your property on the market for sale.

  • I have attempted and failed to negotiate with my landlord to extend my lease without any joy. Can the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal decide on such issues? Can you recommend a St James conveyancing firm to act on my behalf?

    Absolutely. We are happy to put you in touch with a St James conveyancing firm who can help.

    An example of a Lease Extension matter before the tribunal for a St James premises is Flats 12A & 19, Evelyn Mansions Carlisle Place in June 2009. The Tribunal held that the price to be paid for the new lease of Flat 12A is £168,824, For the other flat the price was set at £169,110 This case was in relation to 2 flats. The unexpired term was 56 years.

    Other Topics

    Lease Extensions in St James