We are currently seeing a massive surge in interest from Londoners living in flats and maisonettes, who are desperate to convert their loft space the gain that precious extra bedroom, and at the same time increase the value of their property.
Loft conversions in flats are the ultimate way of gaining that precious extra space, but beware of the legal pitfalls that lurk in the dark of the attic (…and how to avoid them).
What ‘share of freehold’ entitles you to.
Or more accurately, what is does not. Estate agents do a wonderful job in getting a higher price for a flat that comes with a share of freehold, and often, innocently, misrepresent what this means by mistakenly assuming it automatically entitles the owner more freedom and control in decision making. Not so. Even with a share of freehold you will still need consent of the other freeholders before converting the loft.
Where most leases will allow for minor internal changes to be made within the property, most will prohibit any form of major structural alteration without the express consent of the freeholder. The freeholder would be under no obligation to grant consent and would have a well-placed interest in maintaining the structural integrity of the asset, which a loft conversion would impact. Hence he/she would first want to carry out their own due diligence on your loft conversion drawings and structural calculations via their own-appointed third party surveyor (the fees for whom you would pay).
Loft space ownership.
It is fair to say that most leases do not list the loft space as part of the property’s demise, meaning you have no rights to use it,even for storing the Christmas tree let alone for a loft conversion. So first thing’s first, you’ll need to buy the right to the loft space from the freeholder. The freeholder will in all likelihood be aware of the value that the loft space represents to you, and would ask for fair recompense for the same. There is no obligation on the part of the freeholder to sell but in most cases they usually will. After all it is why they’re in the business of freeholding.
So this is an oddity. Even if you own the attic space, you mightn’t necessarily own the airspace above and around the roof. If your plan was to build out a dormer loft conversion than this is something you need to check, and check carefully. Because even where a lease has been drawn up mentioning ownership of the loft space it may not refer to ownership of the airspace around the loft, which we know we will need if we plan to dormer out. Not a show stopper by any means but something to be weary of. This consideration does not apply to ‘Roofline’ loft conversions.
Roof maintenance obligations.
It is quite likely that the responsibility for roof maintenance is currently split equally amongst leasees. In carrying out a loft conversion of your flat it would be fair of the freeholder to ask you to take full responsibility for the entire roof’s maintenance going forward. This would be reflected in a lease amendment and insurance premium adjustment. This leads on to;
Loft conversions in flats invariably means significantly increasing the footprint of the property. The freeholder would likely want this change reflected in the annual insurance premium, where say previously your flat may have occupied 50% of the whole footprint of the property (where there is a just an upstairs and a downstairs flat) your contribution to the insurance premium obligation would also be 50%. Now if your loft conversion doubles the size of your flat, it is fair for the freeholder ask you to pay a bumped up premium to reflect this in line with the beefier of your property; say two thirds you , one third the flat downstairs.
Interference with other building services.
Very often the loft space accommodates household services required by the other flats downstairs. Usually this represents either a communal cold water storage cisterns serving multiple flats, or individual cisterns serving individual flats. In addition flats with central heating will often be served by a feed & expansion tank that will in all inevitability be located in the loft space. Residents of the flats below will need ready-access to these services for maintenance, so they will either need relocating or the system(s) will need to be ‘converted’ so the neighbouring flats no longer need these tanks to provide their household utilities and thus freeing up the loft space for development.
It sounds like a daunting long-winded process but the with a little bit of patience and an experienced hand to guide you through, the rewards on the other side are just phenomenal. That’s why loft conversions in flats are just so popular now.
As you’d expect from London’s premier loft builder, we have invaluable experience and a proven track record in navigating these pitfalls, allowing clients to safety and legally convert the lofts of their leasehold flats and maisonettes for that precious extra space and to massively increase the value of their property at the same time.
City Lofts London – award-winning builders
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