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Alterations

What is the dispute and when might the dispute arise?

Sometimes tenants run into problems with their landlords over works that have been undertaken to a property.

A tenant can do what it likes with rented property in the absence of any restriction in a lease. For this reason most leases contain a number of restrictions.  It is very important to understand what works, if any, you are entitled to carry out and which require your landlord’s consent, as the landlord may insist on the re-instatement of the property to its original condition, which may be very costly and represent a waste of money.

In this section, we will consider what to do if your landlord complains about works you have undertaken.

What to do if a dispute occurs?

Golden rule: Your lease/licence will specify what alterations, if any, you are allowed to undertake to your property. Look at your lease BEFORE undertaking any alterations.

In order to avoid disputes further down the line, ensure you do the following before undertaking works:

•    Check your lease. Certain works will require landlords’ consent, others will be classified as repairs. Ensure you seek permission for the correct works. Do not be tempted to apply to the landlord for all works, as this is both impractical and could get very expensive in terms of landlord’s legal and surveyor’s costs.

•    Apply to landlord for consent. Alterations to the premises will require, in almost all circumstances, the consent of the landlord in the form of a licence for alterations. You will pay the landlord's costs for issuing this licence – and may also be required to pay for the cost of the landlord's surveyor. If you discuss this with your landlord up front, you may be able to negotiate around these costs. If you seek a licence for alterations later, you will undoubtedly pay the full costs.

•    Supply any additional required information (eg. plans, contractors specification, etc). By providing the landlord with all the information they require, you can help speed up the approval process.

•    Ensure all works fall within your demise. Make sure any works are undertaken within the area you rent under the terms of the lease. Little, if anything, will help a tenant in relation to alterations which have been made to property which strictly falls outside the area demised by a lease. Where a demise starts and finishes is not always obvious, particularly on the fringes of roof spaces, windows and window frames, roof terraces, etc, and it is possible to make mistakes.

If you have Landlord’s consent for works then a dispute is unlikely to arise, and you will have proof of the scope of agreed works if it does. Issues are more likely to arise where permission has not been sought, and the Landlord finds out.

What if the works have already been undertaken?

If works have already been undertaken and you should have obtained the landlord’s permission, you may be in breach of the terms of your lease. There are a number of steps you can take to minimise potential costs:

•    Check records to see if any consent was sought from the landlord (e.g. email, letter). This information may go some way to providing support for your position.

•    Check the lease and take advice on it.  Seeking advice at an early stage can help you get clear exactly what works you can undertake at the property – potentially saving significant costs if you are forced to re-instate. This advice can be from a solicitor or a surveyor.

•    Discuss the matter with your landlord and negotiate. You may technically be in the wrong, but the landlord can choose to waive their right to require consent. Therefore be prepared to negotiate on:
  • whether the alterations you have made are permitted
  • the cost of permissions and professional fees
  • the requirements to remove alterations and reinstate premises at the end of the term.   
Accentuate the positive. If the premises are better for the alterations, then you are making both a legal and commercial point in emphasising that ‘reinstatement’ could potentially be a negative step.

•    If appropriate, apply to the landlord for retrospective licence. Be aware there may be associated costs as set out above.

The most usual resolution of a complaint about alterations is that either it is too much trouble for a landlord to actively pursue, or, if it is a significant issue, then some sort of retrospective consent might be sought and/or given. There might be a price to pay for such retrospective consent but that might be the least bad outcome.

Bear in mind that when you move out the landlord may require you to remove alterations you have made to the property, and return the premises to their original state. You should negotiate to avoid this if possible and details should be included in any retrospective licence granted.

Additional Consent:

Remember that works may require consent from parties other than your landlord. Depending on the works intended you may require:

•    Planning permission – planning permission may be required if extensive external works are being undertaken, or if your property is listed or falls within a conservation area. You might also require building regulations consent if you are extending or altering a building or installing services or fittings.  Check with your local planning office.

•    Permissions from superior landlords/freeholder.

•    Neighbouring premises - if you are undertaking works which might impact upon adjoining properties, you may be required to serve a party wall notice.

Ensuring the correct permissions are sought is your responsibility, so make sure you hold copies of this information and if you are at all unsure seek advice from a property professional. Our Property Advice team can help you find the right expertise. Click here for details on how to contact the Foundation for support.

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The Foundation would like to thank Russell Cooke LLP for their contribution to this Property Advice section of the website.