This 'getting started' FAQ is designed to help answer some of the more basic questions when gathering information about your Lease. Interestingly, leasehold information for almost all properties in England and Wales is available from the Land Registry website, for a small fee, to anybody. This includes copies of your full Lease document (see below):
Q: How long is my lease? / How do I find the remaining term on my lease?
You can find this information on the first page of your lease (document). The lease has a start date and a duration (e.g. 99 years), from there, by subtracting today's date, you can calculate the remaining term.
Basic information about your Lease (including the start date, duration and Title Id) is also available online, for a small fee, from the Land registry website (www.landregistry.gov.uk), use the 'Find a Property' section and select the Leasehold 'Title Register'. If you don't have your lease paperwork, this method is the best and quickest way of finding the remaining term on your (or anyone else's) Lease.
The Title Register shows basic information only, it's not the full lease document, but it's a good start point to answer most queries. The fee for this service (Aug 2012) is £4, be sure to use the official www.landregistry.gov.uk website and not the myriad of other middle-man websites that have sprung-up, who will charge you quite a bit more for the same information.
Q: Where can I get a copy of my Lease?
There are 3 ways to do this, depending on your situation.
1) First, make sure you don't already have a copy: A Lease is a 5+ page document, usually ancient-looking and probably difficult to read due to the fact that it's a photocopy 10 times removed from the original. Check your paperwork at home and make sure you weren't given a copy when you purchased your flat (you probably were).
2a) If you have a mortgage, your mortgage provider (Bank, Building society) will probably hold your lease (the original) on file and will send you a copy for a small handling fee.
2b) Ditto with the solicitor who handled the purchase of your property, they may still have a copy in their records.
3) To obtain an official copy of your lease, use the Land Registry website: First get the Title Id (number) of your property, which is available online from www.landregistry.gov.uk: it's on the Leasehold 'Title Register' (see above: How long is my lease? for more on this). The Title Id is then used in Land registry form OC2 Application for official copies of documents. The OC2 form is downloadable from the Land Registry website but must be filled-out and sent in hardcopy form (i.e. by postal mail) the fee for this service is £23.
Q: Can I buy the lease on my property?
For Leasehold Houses: Yes
For Leasehold Flats: No (but you do have an alternative - see below)
First, the term 'buying the lease' meaning buying the lease from the landlord, is incorrectly used here, the term is enfranchise. Enfranchising a lease means buying the freehold (land) from the Landlord in order to take full outright ownership of the property, this also has the effect of determining (or ending) the lease and is what most leaseholders would like to do.
For Leasehold house owners, it is possible to buy the freehold from the landlord (i.e. enfranchise), and it's reasonably straightforward, this is because a 'freehold' effectively means ownership of the land a property sits on. A leasehold house sits on its own separate plot of land, therefore to enfranchise the lease, the land simply needs to be partitioned (marked on a map) and then sold to the leaseholder.
A leasehold flat owner on the other hand, cannot individually enfranchise his lease, why? because his flat shares its plot of land with the other flats in the block, it does not sit on its own land - freehold ownership cannot be applied to properties that sit on shared land. A possible alternative however is for a group of tenants to act together and collectively purchase the freehold of their block (known as 'collective enfranchisement') they can then grant themselves 999 year leases for £1. The downside is that the procedure is complex and requires good cooperation between tenants. See Leasehold Enfranchisement and other options for more on this.
So for an individual leasehold flat owner, because lease enfranchisement isn't possible, the best (and only) option to secure your tenure, is to Extend your Lease.
Q: Who owns my property?
To find the person who owns your property (i.e. the freeholder), look on www.landregistry.gov.uk and use their online 'Find a Property' service to look at the Freehold 'Title Register' for your address, the person named in the Register is the owner of your property. There is a small fee for this service.
Q: Who owns the Leasehold on my property? Who do I contact to extend my Lease?
This is a subtly different question to the one above; the person capable of granting you an extended lease is known as the 'competent landlord', it may be the property owner/freeholder but not always...
First, some clarification, on this website I use the term freeholder and landlord interchangeably, because in most cases they are the same person. However, be aware that sometimes your landlord can himself be a (Head) leaseholder, who grants sub-leases to tenants. So there could be 3 people in the relationship: A freeholder (i.e. the land/property owner) who a grants a head lease to the landlord, the landlord then grants sub-leases to the tenants (i.e. you).
If the freeholder and landlord are different people, who do you contact to organise a lease extension? It depends.
If the landlord/head leaseholder has a sufficiently long lease, i.e. with a remaining term that is 90+ years longer than your lease, then he is the competent landlord and you should contact him WRT a Lease extension, however quite often the head leaseholder has a lease that ends just a few days after the sub-leases (i.e. yours), so if that's the case, you'll need to contact the freeholder to extend your lease.
To identify the competent landlord look on the www.landregistry.gov.uk website and use their online 'Find a Property' service to view the various freehold and leasehold 'Title Registers' listed for your address. You should be able to establish who the head leaseholder is (if you have one) and the remaining term on his Lease.
Alternatively, the low-tech approach is to speak to other residents in your block and ask if they have extended their leases, or simply contact the person listed on your Ground Rent demands (Note: Ground rent, not Service Charges) the name on the GR demand will be either the freeholder or the head leaseholder (Landlord).
Q: Do I need to engage a Solicitor or a Valuer to extend my lease?
Yes, you will need both.
You will need a Solicitor with experience in leasehold conveyencing to manage the process of extending, and a Valuer (also known as a Surveyor) to view the property and advise on the premium (price) to offer the landlord. You should find the solicitor first, he will engage a valuer/surveyor on your behalf if required.
The surveyor's role in valuing the property is straightforward, expect to pay around £750 (~ballpark) for his services, he will produce a brief report with upper and lower valuations for the property and suggest the premium you should offer the landlord.
The solicitor's role is more involved, effectively overseeing the process; e.g. Eligibility/qualification checks, identifying the competent landlord, preparing the Section 42 Notice, liaising with the landlord's solicitor & valuer, compliance with leasehold legislation, due diligence, negotiating terms & conveyance of the new lease, agreeing recoverable costs (you are liable for the landlord's' legal fees).
There is a listing of leasehold solicitors and valuers here: www.lease-advice.org/information/advisors
Q: What is a Leasehold Practitioner?
A Leasehold Practitioner is a generic term for a professional who is qualified in one or more aspects of Leasehold conveyencing, Extension or Enfranchisement.
An LP is either a solicitor (with leasehold experience) or a surveyor/valuer (again, with relevant experience) the Association of Leasehold Enfranchisement Practitioners is the professional body of LPs and you can find membership lists of LPs on the website: www.alep.org.uk. The solicitor who handled my lease extension was a member of this organisation.