Oakfield Building Chartered Surveyors
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When is a Licence to Alter required?

A licence to alter is required by owners of leasehold properties when they want to make alterations to their homes. Unlike freehold owners, leaseholders do not have the freedom to have most works done on their property without consent.

What is a Licence to Alter?

A licence to alter is a legal document which officially records the details of a freeholder’s permission for a leaseholder to make changes to their property. A licence is usually needed when structural changes are to be made, but it may also be required for works which appear to be more basic, such as replacing carpet with hard flooring. It acts as a form of authorisation from the freeholder and stipulates any associated terms and conditions which must be adhered to when the works are carried out.

Checking your existing property lease for permission

Leaseholders and freehold owners or landlords are required to abide by the conditions set out in the lease document. For leaseholders, this usually means agreeing to do and not do specified things, while landlords make commitments of their own, such as providing services and arranging buildings’ insurance. The lease document will usually set out whether the leaseholder is permitted to have any works carried out on the property they own. In some cases, there will be a clause which limits the need for consent to structural changes only, but in others, the lease will include requirements for consent before any kind of alteration can be undertaken.

licence to alter apartments
Building changes
Block of Flats Licence to alter
designing to suit alterations to property

How to get help with reviewing a lease

If you are uncertain about the permissions granted in the lease, it is best to seek advice from a professional. One of our surveyors at Oakfield will be happy to review your lease document for you. They can then advise you as to what works you have the right to carry out without applying for permission, and what works must not be started unless they have been agreed with the freeholder, usually by means of a licence to alter.

What types of works need a licence to alter?

The types of work which will usually require licences to alter include:

• Structural layout changes: these could include moving a doorway, changing room sizes by building or removing a wall, or having a chimney removed

• Changing the kitchen location or fitting a new kitchen

• Changing the bathroom location or adding a new bathroom

• External alterations, such as replacing windows

• Building an extension

• Changing floor coverings: Where carpet is being replaced with hard flooring, there is an impact on noise.

• Changes to services supplied to the property, such as gas, water and electricity

Require a Licence to Alter?

We are one of the leading Chartered Surveyors covering London, Beaconsfield Buckinghamshire, Marlow and Oxfordshire and regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Our team is dedicated to providing the highest quality building surveys.
Contact us to discuss your requirements further.

What kind of conditions are likely to be specified by the freeholder?

For changes to floor coverings, where the leaseholder wants to replace carpet with hard flooring, acoustic testing and sound deadening underlay would usually be required.

For refits to, relocation of, or addition of wet areas such as new bathrooms or kitchens, sound deadening underlay and acoustic testing are likely to be required, as are waterproof barriers. These types of works will probably also generate a requirement for drainage assessments at the property.

For most structural work, such as changes to the layout, a licence to alter would only be granted on the condition that there are surveyor inspections, reviews by a structural engineer, contractors insurance, and building regulations sign-offs.

For window changes, conditions are likely to include method statements, temporary support details, temporary access requirements, contractor insurance and Fensa certificates.

For changes to services, such as electricity, gas or water, there is likely to be a requirement for contractor insurance, surveyor inspections, building regulations sign-off and safety certificates.

What are lease alterations?

Fully qualified covenant

For leaseholders, this is the most advantageous type of covenant. With a fully qualified covenant, the leaseholder is likely to gain the consent of the freeholder to carry out alterations to the property, with permission not withheld unreasonably.

Qualified covenant

Alterations proposed by the leaseholder are prohibited unless the freeholder has given consent. The freeholder is under no obligation to be reasonable in denying consent.

Absolute covenant

An absolute covenant completely prohibits any sort of alteration. Where an absolute covenant is in place, the freeholder has no obligation to be reasonable in refusing consent. If freeholders choose to give permission for alterations to be made, the alteration clause will need to be waived, and freeholders are entitled to charge any price for their consent and specify any conditions they choose.

If you are planning to have work done on your leasehold property, it is important to have the lease alteration clause and covenant reviewed very early on, and ideally before you incur major costs. Otherwise, you could spend money on planning works for which you later find you are unable to get permission. If your proposed works include alterations to part of the freehold, the owner is under no obligation to give consent, and there is no requirement not to be unreasonable in withholding consent.

A member of our team at Oakfield Chartered Surveyors will be happy to give you advice on covenants and will be able to review the lease alteration clause and covenant you have in place.

What does the licence to alter surveyor do?

The role of the surveyor is to review and assess the planned works in relation to the leaseholder’s property, and also from the perspective of the properties owned by neighbouring leaseholders, liaise with the freeholder, solicitors and other professionals, and carry out site inspections.

Licence to alter

The process the surveyor needs to go through to secure a licence to alter includes the following steps:

• Review the lease

The surveyor will start by checking the lease to identify the type of covenant it contains and will establish whether the works can go ahead or whether there are permission requirements.

• Assess the plans

The surveyor will carry out a review of the proposed works to be undertaken on the property, including reviewing the technical documents for the project together with insurance and consent documentation. The assessment takes into account any associated issues relating to neighbouring properties as well as the client’s leasehold property. The surveyor will advise you of the requirements which would be expected to be specified in the licence to alter in order to secure consent for the works. They may also make recommendations about the nature of the works.

• Contact the freeholder

The surveyor makes the initial formal approach to the freeholder, outlining the proposed works. Engineers’ drawings and calculations should be included, if the proposed work comprises structural changes, so that the freeholder has full details of the plans. The freeholder may want to consult their own surveyor and solicitor at this stage for advice.

• Information requests

The freeholder is likely to request further information relating to the proposed works. We try to anticipate as much as possible and provide full details at the initial approach, but there will always be specific pieces of information requested which are not expected, and these will be managed during this part of the process.

• Site inspection

A site visit will be required to inspect the property and to get the information needed for the Schedule of Condition Surveys and Reports to be prepared. These reports relate to communal areas, neighbouring flats and the building facades, which could be impacted by the works.

• Agree and complete licence

A draft licence to alter is prepared, usually by a solicitor, and is sent to the freeholder and their advisers for review. Following any required changes, the licence to alter will be signed and agreed upon, and the leaseholder is legally permitted to begin the work.

• Interim site inspection

The surveyor will inspect the site at various points while the works are being carried out. In most cases, the freeholder will also have a surveyor who conducts site visits to check on the construction work and to ensure that it is being undertaken in accordance with the requirements of the licence.

• Final site inspection

Once the works have been completed, the surveyor will carry out another site visit for the Schedule of Condition Surveys and Reports checks. These are to ensure that there has been no damage caused by the works.

Knock down wall
Licence to alter building work

How to get a retrospective licence to alter?

There is no guarantee that it will be possible to secure a retrospective licence to alter. Freehold owners are under no obligation to give permission retrospectively. When alterations are made without prior consent, the leaseholder is in breach of their lease. In many cases, the leaseholder commits the breach inadvertently, for example by failing to read the small print in the leasehold document at the time when the property was purchased. Given how much needs to be done when a house is bought, it is not surprising that this mistake can be made.

Indeed, in some cases, there may not be any awareness of the breach until the property comes to be sold on. Nonetheless, if leaseholders do not have permission for works at the property, with a licence to alter required, they have breached the lease, and action will need to rectify the situation.

What recovery does a landlord have if permission has not been granted for works undertaken?

If a freeholder is approached for permission after the property has already been altered, there is no requirement for the freeholder to grant permission, and there is a risk that you could be taken to court. Therefore it is important to ensure that a licence to alter is in place before altering anything structural in a leasehold property. In the event that work is undertaken without a mandatory licence to alter, the first step is to apply for a retrospective licence, and a surveyor will be able to help you with this.

Looking for Licence to Alter?

We are one of the leading Chartered Surveyors covering London, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Our team is dedicated to providing the highest quality building surveys.
Contact us to discuss your requirements further.

How much does a licence to alter cost?

The cost of securing a licence to alter varies depending on the complexity of the situation and the works. Contact the Oakfield surveying team to get a no-obligation quote for a licence to alter services. As with all the work we undertake, we keep our pricing straightforward and transparent so that our clients can see clearly what will be charged for the services we are providing.

What other professional fees may be incurred by the tenant in the process?

In addition to our fees, it may be necessary to pay fees for:

A solicitor to draft the licence document

A solicitor for the freeholder

A surveyor for the freeholder

A structural engineer

You should also budget for repair works in case there is any damage caused by the works, for example to communal areas.

For help with reviewing a lease or to find out more about obtaining a licence to alter your property, contact the team at Oakfield Chartered Surveyors

Please fill out the form below and we will come back to you.

Alternatively please call us on 01494 926326.

One of our team of professionals would be delighted to help you with any queries.