What is License to Alter?
A licence to alter is a legal document which can be put in place between a freeholder and a leaseholder who wishes to undertake alterations to their property. If the property lease does not allow the proposed works to be carried out by the leaseholder, a licence to alter provides a legal mechanism for the freeholder to give permission for the works to be done. The licence sets out the terms and conditions under which the works to the property must be carried out. You may also find the document referred to as a Residential Licence for Alterations.
This document is usually drafted by a solicitor, either instructed by the leaseholder or the freeholder, and is signed by both the freeholder and the leaseholder. Each party may wish to have the document reviewed by their own solicitor.
Who benefits from a Licence to Alter?
The licence to alter is helpful to all parties, as it can enable leaseholders to carry out the alterations they want to make while ensuring that all interested parties within the building are protected. The licence is designed to make sure that the alterations do not negatively impact the other leaseholders in the building, and does not conflict with the interests of the freeholder.
What is a retrospective licence to alter?
When works are initiated and even completed without permission, it is sometimes possible to arrange a retrospective licence to alter. This serves to authorise the works after the event. However, you cannot be certain that the freeholder will agree to a licence retrospectively, and this course of action should be avoided wherever possible. Many people might not be aware of the requirement for permission to make apparently minor changes, such as installing hard flooring, but if in doubt, you should always check your lease, or ask a surveyor to check for you, so that you can avoid the challenge of seeking a retrospective licence to alter.
If you fail to get a licence to alter prior to starting works, you run the risk of being required to return the property to its previous state. It is possible that the freeholder could take legal action against you if you undertake works without permission, particularly if the changes have had a detrimental impact on other parts of the building, such as communal areas, facades or neighbouring properties. Additionally, when you come to sell the property, you will face difficulties if you have not had a licence to alter put in place where needed for any changes made.
It is always better to ensure that you are within your rights legally to carry out the works before they commence. You can get advice from the team at Oakfield Chartered Surveyors, who will be happy to review your lease and any related documents to confirm whether or not you currently have permission to proceed with the proposed works.
Do my works need a licence to alter?
In order to establish whether you need a licence to alter for your planned works, you will need to review the lease you have signed with your freeholder. The type of covenant in the lease, and the nature of the proposed works will determine whether you need a licence to alter. If works will affect the structure of the building they will usually require permission, but permission requirements are not always limited to structural changes.
In general, leases have one of the following three covenants, or in some cases a combination:
- Absolute Covenant: this prohibits the alterations being undertaken. The only way around this is if the freeholder is willing to waive this clause. There is no requirement for the freeholder to be reasonable in the decision whether to refuse or deny consent.
- Qualified Covenant: This prohibits alterations unless the freeholder consents to the changes being made. There is no obligation for the freeholder to be reasonable.
- Fully Qualified Covenant: the proposed alterations can take place provided the freeholder’s consent is given. This consent must not be unreasonably withheld.
It is essential that you check the lease document prior to starting any works, and before making any application to the freeholder. This will allow you to establish whether you can go ahead and make alterations without seeking permission, or if you need to arrange for a licence to alter to be agreed. If you would like help with reviewing the lease document, one of our experienced surveyors at Oakfield can do that for you.
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What types of alteration are likely to need a licence?
Anything which affects the fabric of the building is likely to need a licence, as well as some non-structural changes.
This may include taking out load-bearing walls, creating a new doorway, or building a loft conversion.
External alterations would include replacing windows. For example, if you choose to upgrade windows to reduce heat loss or for aesthetic reasons, you may need permission.
Any work which requires new plumbing to be installed may have an impact on the existing system. Drainage may also be affected.
Replacing carpet with another carpet will not usually require permission, but replacing carpet with hard flooring has noise implications for neighbouring properties and will usually be prohibited unless certain requirements are met in terms of soundproofing.
If you wish to make changes to the supply of water, gas or electricity you are likely to need this to be agreed by the landlord.
Types of condition imposed with a licence to alter
Some alterations will generate additional noise or noise in a different part of the property. For example, if carpet is being replaced with hard flooring, that can generate more noise for neighbouring properties, such as an apartment directly beneath. A condition may be imposed insisting on the use of a sound-deadening underlay.
Wet areas such as kitchen or bathroom installations may be required to have a water barrier fitted in addition to sound-deafening measures. For major structural works, conditions may include building regulations sign-offs, contractor insurance, advice from a structural engineer, and surveyor inspections. For changes to services, conditions might also include safety certificates.
If windows are being replaced, conditions may include providing details of temporary support, temporary access, method statements and Fensa certificates.
Why is a surveyor needed for a licence to alter and what is their involvement?
The surveyor for the leaseholder is involved throughout the process to obtain a licence to alter. The surveyor will provide technical expertise as well as liaising between the various parties involved in getting the licence agreed upon.
The key responsibilities of the surveyor
- Reviewing the scheme and making any recommendations for the proposed works; producing a report to confirm acceptance on the scheme.
- Reviewing all technical information, as well as the associated consent and insurance documents.
- Reviewing the draft licence to ensure that all surveying-related issues are adequately covered
- Scheduling the condition of any affected external/communal areas and adjoining flats that may be affected.
- Undertaking an interim visit to view the works in progress.
- Undertaking a final visit to re-check the schedule and highlight any outstanding issues.
Key steps in the process for a licence to alter
- Technical drawings and information produced.
- Surveyor appointment to review the scheme.
- Surveyors report to the freeholder.
- Solicitors draft the licence.
- Both parties agree and sign the licence.
- Works can commence subject to all statutory provisions.
The key responsibilities of the surveyor
The following parties may need to be involved in the licence to alter process:
- Solicitors for leaseholder and freeholder
- Surveyors for leaseholder and freeholder
- Structural engineer
- Building regulations officer
Once the leaseholder works have been completed, there may be a need for builders and cleaners to make good any damage to other parts of the building.
How are issues such as party walls dealt with?
You may need to consider how your proposed works are affected by the Party Wall Etc Act 1996. At Oakfield Chartered Surveyors, our team has expertise in party wall matters and can advise you on the implications for your proposed works. Click Here
Our surveyors have extensive experience in arranging Licences to Alter. We can support you through the whole process, from checking your lease agreement to carrying out post-work inspections and finalising all related documentation.
From valuations to surveys, at Oakfield, we offer a full range of services for property owners. If you have any questions on getting a licence to alter or another property matter, call our team of expert-chartered surveyors for advice and a free quotation for services.
How does it affect you?
Further information for Building Owners / Landlords
Further information for Property Owners with adjoining walls
Questions & Answers
Read our frequently asked questions and answers