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Loft conversion – seeking consent

Some time ago we had a client call us up who had recently purchased an upper maisonette, which was leasehold with a share of the freehold (the downstairs flat owned the other half of the freehold).

Our client had a loft space demised to them and wanted to make a loft conversion. Our client knew that planning permission would not be an issue as others were doing the same in the road that they lived in, however they were worried about freeholder consent.

Their lease said they have the right to to repair, cleanse and amend the exterior and interior (including landlords fixtures and fittings) of the demised premises….including the ceilings, walls and floors and joists and beams provided they give reasonable notice. Elsewhere it says that our client needs freeholder consent to cut or move walls and ceilings.

The people downstairs tried to buy the flat, but lost out on sealed bids, and they proceeded to hold up the purchase process by taking a very long time to sign the freehold transfer – so our client was expecting trouble.

Given that our client has the right to “amend” the demised premises, they wanted to know if there was there any way the owners of the flat below could prevent them from doing this legally?

In our view this all depends on what it states within the lease, and we believed our client should not read between the lines or try and interpret the lease themselves if there is any doubt. Does the lease mention ‘consent not to be unreasonably withheld’? If you have this phrase in the lease then the other freeholder would have difficulty in objecting, if as the client says they own the loft within your current lease. They cannot object on noise or disturbance so that one is out. They do sound pernicious and we recommend our client should proceed with caution. We also recommended that they seek the advice of a solicitor before engaging with the downstairs neighbours.