Common questions among those fresh to the idea of leasehold with regard to owning an apartment are; How do I change to a freehold?/ How do I make my flat freehold instead of leasehold?/ How do I obtain a freehold as opposed to a leasehold apartment?. The phraseology of these questions highlights a frequent and understandable misunderstanding concerning the nature of the association between freehold and leasehold in private residential property.
In essence, an apartment that is leasehold will always be leasehold. Any modifications that you make will not 'convert' it to freehold. There is an important exception in the form of Commonhold tenure which we will not address here. The major reason we can ignore it is that it is an particularly unusual variety of tenure in the UK and difficult to accumulate the required quantity of neighbours to make it work. We do though deal with it in a separate editorial.
Remember that the lease is a legal record governing the connection between the leaseholder and the freeholder. This outlines the rights and obligations of both parties. It is a reasonable document to have since it ensures people living near to each other conduct themselves in a way that is reasonable and considerate. Many flat owners wish to get rid of leases because they oblige them to preserve their timber windows, have carpets fitted instead of wooden laminate floors or refrain from fitting satellite dishes. However, these provisions time and again make communal living more considerate and help to maintain property values when properly applied.
As long as they can fulfill certain circumstances, most owners of leasehold flats in England and Wales can get hold of their share of freehold. If they do that, then they will all together be a partial freeholder and also a leaseholder. The lease does not disappear: it continues to govern the way people ought to conduct themselves who are responsible for the development.
So now one can appreciate why the question 'How can I convert to a freehold?' is actually the wrong question. Nothing novel is produced or converted in reality. When buying a share of freehold a flat owner is acquiring the freehold for their section of the block from the current freeholder. The apartment owner continues to be a party to the existing lease agreement. Then again, they virtually become their own freeholder, odd as that may appear.
This is not as mad as it appears in the beginning because it is very rare in a lot of blocks of flats, where the people club together to obtain the freehold, for every flat owner to chip in. These non-participants persist in being leaseholders but now their freeholder has changed. Ordinarily, everything else stays the identical as far as they are concerned and it costs the non-participants zero. Yet, they miss out on the benefits that come with owning their share of freehold. Alternatively, arguably, they also don't assume several of the obligations that come with owning a share of freehold.
Andrew Szebeni is part of the management team of the Association of Leasehold Enfranchisement Practitioners. ALEP has more than 100 members, each vetted before joining. They include solicitors, surveyors, intermediaries, managing agents and other professionals in England and Wales specialising in the field of leasehold enfranchisement. Have a look at the searchable list of vetted members at http://alep.org.uk/findaleaseholdsolicitorsurveyor.