A question often asked of Fridaysmove is “Can I use the loft space above my flat?”.
Questions like this are commonly asked by flat owners on web-forums. Conveyancing Solicitors also receive similar regular queries about using cellars, roof terraces, and gardens.
As a leaseholder, it is critical to seek the appropriate permission from the freeholder rather than proceeding to convert a loft or cellar into an additional room without consent. Fridaysmove even had a client who had constructed a second flat in the roof space at considerable cost and was then unable to sell it as the loft space was not within the demise of the lease – i.e. he didn’t own it!
Less extreme example such as putting railings and decking on a roof terrace that is not within the lease can also cause considerable problems and delays when you come to sell.
The answer lies in the lease – or does it?
The answer will depend on the exact wording of the property description in the lease, but all too often there is no clear answer. Freeholder’s Conveyancing Solicitors often draw up leases on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ basis, so that they can be used for any flat in a building without having to make any changes, so areas such as lofts and cellars just aren’t mentioned. And lease plans can’t be relied on as until recently such plans were often little more than sketches.
You might assume that if you own a top-floor flat that the loft space will automatically be included, and likewise with a cellar below a ground-floor flat, but this is not necessarily the case. If the property is an upper maisonette, where the owner is responsible for maintaining and repairing the roof structure, then it is reasonable to assume that any loft space forms part of the property.
But if a flat is part of a larger block of flats and the freeholder is responsible for the roof, the leaseholder cannot use any loft space unless it is clearly mentioned in the lease.
Always check whether you have permission in your lease before you convert a roof terrace
Don’t assume that you can use a garden or roof terrace
Likewise if a block of flats has a garden, this does not entitle all the flat-owners to use it unless specifically mentioned in their leases. Frequently gardens are included in the lease of the ground-floor flat only, and other owners have no rights to use them.
Another common cause of misunderstanding is the use of a flat roof on a lower flat – such a roof might appear to make an attractive roof terrace for the owners of an upper flat, but unless it is mentioned in your lease you can’t automatically assume that you have the right to use it.
So the best advice is to check your lease – your Solicitor will be happy to do this, or if you haven’t got a copy you should be able to obtain one from the land registry.
Alterations require consent
Leases almost invariably contain a restriction prohibiting the leaseholder from carrying out alterations. If you are planning to convert a loft or cellar to an additional room, it is more than likely that you will need consent from the freeholder – be prepared to pay legal costs for a formal ‘licence for alterations.’
If you own a share of the freehold don’t assume that you don’t need the consent of your co-owners – they might object if your works cause damage to their part of the building.
Also check out whether you need building regulation approval and/or planning permission – the planning portal is useful, Planning Portal Link , or check with your local council.