Trapped in a Leasehold Nightmare!
“I now realise that buying a leasehold property is worse than renting. In fact, you are renting without the ease of escaping an unpleasant situation. When renting you can serve notice and move without too much trouble. Leaving a leasehold purchase is much, much more difficult. If you do decide leasehold is your only choice, be aware that the law strongly favours the freeholder and that other leaseholders in your block might be unscrupulous buy-to-let property owners”….
Not the words of Leasehold Life but those of a leaseholder from the new generation.This is her story….
August 2006 found me both exhausted and exhilarated when I finally completed on the purchase of my first property; a ground floor one bedroom maisonette with an 80 foot garden – and in London, no less! I cheerfully spent hours cleaning, tidying, scrubbing and bleaching before moving in. It was perfect and I had done my research, or so I thought.
Having watched property shows, searched the internet and read as much literature as possible, I felt confident that it was a good purchase because of excellent transport links, great shopping facilities, open spaces for walking and picnics, off street parking, good schools (I worked in one within walking distance), reasonable Council Tax, private front and rear gardens, reasonable ground rent and no service charge, friendly neighbours, no chain and vacant possession, positive full structural survey and a solicitor who pressed hard for a good lease.
Sublime Enjoyment to Tormented Dispair
Three months after moving in, things quickly went fromsublime enjoyment to tormented despair. The tenants in the maisonette above moved out to be replaced by a thoughtless and inconsiderate family. It quickly became apparent that there was very little sound insulation between the two properties and the constant running, jumping, shouting and screaming of two young children proved extremely disruptive. Adding insult to injury, the children kept climbing the fence into my garden until the fence collapsed. Attempts at mediation met with stony silence or open aggression.
As if this was not bad enough, there were a series of leaks – from the toilet and washing machine – causing damage to ceilings and walls in my bathroom and kitchen. The letting agents kept promising to make good the damage – it never happened. When I finally contacted the freeholder’s agent they suggested making a claim against the building insurance. Unfortunately, the claims had to be submitted separately and were individually less than the excess. If however you are in a similar situation, be aware that if one part of a room is damaged, you are entitled to have the whole room and ceiling painted. This will mean that the quote you get is likely to exceed the excess. Learning curve for me!
One of the, initially, more entertaining moments of the poor insulation was when a friend was staying with me. I had initially used the back room as a bedroom but moved into the front room when the nocturnal rompings of the couple above became rather unpleasant. In the middle of the night, my friend ran into my room and jumped into my bed, howling with laughter and tears. “Oh my God,” she screamed. “It really is horribly loud.” Well, quite! It is funny the first time but not when it happens regularly during the week, accompanied by a squeaking and thumping bed.
The property has been let to many different tenants over the past four years – all immigrantsfrom Eastern Europe or Asia. I suspect this is because they do not know their rights and are looking for cheap accommodation. It seems to me that the leaseholder and letting agents are taking advantage for a quick buck.
The damage to my property has been extensive, the worst in November 2009 when the central heating system in the above flat leaked into ceilings and down walls of the bedroom, living room and hallway. Luckily it was repaired under the building insurance but the leaseholder did not respond when asked to confirm that the leaks had been rectified. Eventually after three months, the insurers agreed that given no further leaks had occurred, I could proceed with fixing the damage. Meanwhile, I had to live in a damp and smelly property.
I began a long campaign of complaint with the letting agent, the freeholder’s agents (yes they are represented by more than one agency) and the Council about the unacceptable noise, trespass and destruction of property. Earlier this year, I eventually sought legal advice. Unfortunately, my complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
Council Can’t Help
The Council agreed that the noise was disruptive but not ‘Statutory Noise Nuisance’ and they could take no action. The freeholder’s agents suggested pursuing the leaseholder through the courts. The freeholder is a dormant, non-trading company and keep referring the matter to their agents who have failed miserably to enforce the lease. The leaseholder ignored all correspondence from me, the solicitor and one of the freeholder’s agents. Pursuing the leaseholder and/or the freeholder through the courts to enact the covenants is likely to be prohibitively expensive, with no guarantee of success.
Changing Of Hands
Finally, I recently discovered that the property has changed hands; the new owners continue to breach the terms of the lease. I now have no way of pursuing the former leaseholder and feel as if the process must begin again with the current leaseholders. It is almost too frustrating to continue but, in the current economic climate, I cannot sell my property so the fight must continue. My property is depreciating at an alarming rate and although there are still improvements I want to make and damage to repair, it seems like pouring money down the drain. This week I am dealing with a mice infestation (probably caused by the tenants upstairs washing away food waste which keeps blocking the drains) and sitting water caused by blocked drains on the upstairs property.
If you have yet to purchase a leasehold property, my advice is read the lease carefully before signing. When you do not understand a clause or covenant, ask your solicitor. And finally, carefully check the freeholder’s credentials. If they are a company, check the most recent company report. You might discover, like mine, that there are many layers and getting support might be challenging and costly.