The best managed residential buildings are those with a manual that sets out exactly what leaseholders can and cannot do, and ensures property managers know how to respond to applications for alterations.
If you are the managing agent of a residential block or development, or director of a share-of-freehold resident management company, the chances are that sooner or later you will have to deal with a licence to alter application.
But you do not have to wait for a leaseholder to apply before thinking about how to respond. The best managed residential buildings are those with a building manual that sets out the do’s and don’t’s, with a particular emphasis on alterations.
A building manual or leaseholder alterations manual is a policy document that sits outside the actual lease but crucially reinforces the key lease covenants in respect of alterations, whether they are absolute, qualified or fully qualified. The manual offers guidance for managing agents and their clients when they are making their decision on whether or not to grant consent – and provides clear directions for leaseholders contemplating works.
For example, manuals may contain more detailed provisions concerning stacking arrangements (restrictions on wet areas over bedrooms) or absolute prohibitions on hard floor coverings. A good manual ensures leaseholders know what to do when the time comes to refurbish, so the licence process runs smoothly and there is no unnecessary confusion. The manual should be given to leaseholders when they buy their property – or even before they buy when LPE1 leasehold enquiries are answered – and ideally should be concise enough that they will actually read it! Having read the manual, they are far less likely to start unauthorised works, which may lead to a reversal of what they have done or be compelled to apply for a licence to alter retrospectively.
Better still, the manual can be complemented by a comprehensive procedure for the management of licence to alter. This goes beyond providing clarity about what is and is not permitted, to set out precisely how managing agents and their clients should deal with a range of alterations – from a relatively straightforward kitchen replacement which may require just a short form licence (otherwise known as a letter of consent), to substantial layout changes requiring load-bearing walls to be removed and a full licence to alter necessary.
A helpful manual will specify that the leaseholder needs to provide clear details of the works that they intend to carry out to their property, including copies of the specification and accompanying drawings. It can detail the role of the landlord’s building surveyor in analysing the plans and making recommendations to its client or managing agent; organising schedules of condition; monitoring the works at key stages; and serving the completion certificate. It will stress the importance of the building surveyor’s function when considering any impact of the proposed works on adjoining premises and other parts of the building – including potential party wall considerations. It is also a good idea to set out timings in the manual – in days or weeks rather than months – to ensure the landlord cannot be accused of unreasonably delaying or withholding consent.
The procedure can also specify requirements in terms of third party consents like building regulations or planning approval, as well as matters regarding insurance and inspections. It can set out a communications strategy to ensure all stakeholders are kept informed throughout the process. The more these things are considered and planned for in advance, the smoother the process will be in practice.
And clearly, both the alterations manual and the licence process detailed within it, should be tailored to the particular needs and specifications of the building or development in question to ensure they are both relevant and exhaustive.
Bill Pryke, Director and Head of EK Licence to Alter