Collective enfranchisement is the term given to Leaseholders acquiring the Freehold of the property they live in. For the purposes of this article we will be referring to the Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 (“the Act”) as amended and the collective enfranchisement of flats. There is other legislation such as the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 which mainly relates to houses.
For many people owning a share of the freehold of the block of flats they occupy is seen as being vital as people often do not like the idea of simply being a tenant. In practice there are many different considerations which need to be weighed up before any application is made.
Firstly the Leaseholders need to act together (at least in part) since in simple terms 50% of the long leaseholders have to all come together to be able to purchase the freehold and if the building has any commercial parts these must not exceed 25% of the building. Assuming that these basic conditions are met the Leaseholders can then at least in principle consider whether they wish to pursue this route. Often there will be a vocal group who wish to “get on ” with the application. At this stage it is usual that people will then look to appoint a surveyor experienced in these matters to provide some guidance on the price payable. The methodology is set out in the Act and has been subject to numerous decisions of which the most famous is probably the decision in the case known simply as Sportelli. It is vital that a proper valuation is undertaken at an early stage to give all of the potential participants some idea as to what price may be paid.
Assuming that the numbers then match the Leaseholders pockets a detailed consideration should be given as to the right to qualify. Often a valuer experienced in this field will already have flagged if he foresees any particular issues. At this point it would always be advisable to instruct someone experienced in this field as the law, despite various amendments being made under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, remains hugely technical with various pitfalls for the unwary. The adviser can then draw up the appropriate documentation and advise whether the Leaseholders will hold the freehold subject to any trust or company structure. It is worth pausing at this point to highlight that it is always open to Leaseholders to enter into informal negotiations with the Freeholder.
A Notice will then be served upon the Freeholder specifying a date by which they must reply. If there is no response then an application can be made to the County Court but usually (assuming a valid Notice has been served) the Freeholder will respond agreeing the right but disputing the price. There can however still be many technical reasons why a Notice may not be accepted by a Landlord and the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court continue to hear a large number of appeals on very technical aspects although the bulk of these do relate to high value properties in what is known as Prime Central London however the outcomes tend to be binding on all.
The Act then allows for a period of negotiation after which if no agreement is reached an application can be made to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal for a determination of the terms of the purchase. After this determination or agreement there will then be a transfer of the freehold and the Leaseholders will have acquired the freehold.
It is at this point that the hard work starts. Often Leaseholders will be advised to grant to themselves extended leases (typically 999 year terms) and possibly review any other perceived or actual failings in the lease. Certainly this should be looked at at this stage as there can be various issues if the Leaseholders only look to do this some way down the line, not least certain tax consequences which can arise.
It is important that all parties to the Collective Enfranchisement understand that there will still be a Leaseholder and Freeholder and whilst not impossible to own a freehold flat this is highly undesirable for reasons outside the scope of this article. The previous leasehold structure will then remain. For this reason before going down the route the Leaseholders must consider what Collective Enfranchisement will mean in practice.
The Freeholder will still be required to comply with both the terms of any leases (whether participants in the acquisition or not) and also the various statutory rules particularly governing recovery of service charges. The LVT in various recent decisions has made clear it has no jurisdiction to deal more leniently with Resident Owned freeholds than those owned by commercial investors. Given how complicated some of these rules are Leaseholders will always be well advised to consider appointing external managing agents to make sure these obligations are complied with. Owning the freehold brings both rights and obligations and this should not be forgotten. In particular awkward situations can arise where you have non paying tenants as the Freeholder and the Leaseholders who comprise the same will need to pursue action against these people.
As a result careful consideration needs to be given not just as to the acquisition but what this means for the future. It is also worth noting that simply because a building has undergone Collective Enfranchisement on one occasion does not mean this will not happen again and the writer has seen instances where one group have enfranchised but there has been a parting of the ways with some members of the freehold and so a second collective enfranchisement has taken place!
For some Leaseholders the costs of Collectively Enfranchisement mean that this is more economic than bulk lease extension applications but Leaseholders should proceed with their eyes fully open as to what is involved once you have been successful. Advice at an early stage of the process is vital so all are aware of the full implications of going down the route but if you decide this is the route for you it really can be a satisfying journey to have greater control of your destiny for what for many is their largest single asset