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Joshua
Joshua, Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 25358
Experience:  LL.B (Hons), Higher Prof. Dip. Law & Practice
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My friends in London own (on a 99 year lease) the bottom maisonette

Resolved Question:

My friends in London own (on a 99 year lease) the bottom maisonette of a two storey building. They also own the Freehold of the complete building/land.

Unfortunately, the very elderly owner (on a 999 year lease) of the top maisonette died in March 2012 from smoke inhalation and cerebral oedema from a fire in her bedroom. I believe it was either caused by candles or overheated electric fire. An inquest was held at Barnet coroners court and a verdict of death by misadventure returned.

The fire destroyed back bedroom and smoke damage to rest of the property. The fire brigade/police had to smash lounge and bedroom windows which were then boarded up by police crime scene team and front door rebuilt to maintain element of security.

The police gave access to building to two unknown people who my friends believe were representatives from her church.

Two years on no one has attempted to contact my friends (as freeholders) with regard to the repair or sale of the damaged building. It would appear she had died intestate with no children or relatives.

My friends have replaced the boarding in windows and covered with prospect to attempt waterproofing of the building but this is not terribly effective. There are very concerned about the deterioration of the top floor of the building and going though another cold winter.

What rights do they have as freeholders, particularly as there does not appear to be any living relatives and what are there chances of taking ownership of the top maisonette? What steps need to be taken?

Regards
Julie Cottingham
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Joshua replied 2 years ago.

Joshua :

Hello and thank you for your question. I will be very pleased to assist you. I'm a practicing lawyer in England with over 10 years experience.

Joshua :

May I ask if your friends routinely served invoices on the upstairs owner when she was alive for insurance and maintenance and ground rent etc please?

Customer:

No each owner was responsible for maintenance and upkeep. She was just supposed to just advise my friends that property was insured.

Joshua :

Thanks. Normally a maisonette lease would provide that the landlord is liable for insurance and structure of the property with the leaseholders to contribute equally to this. Some leases are defective and provide for maintenance in the way you suggest but this is defective technically and would raise issues when either property was sold. Do you know this is what the leases provide for or is this just what happened in practice but you are not sure what the leases actually provide for please?

Customer:

The lease advises that each party is responsible for their own insurance, maintenance and upkeep. I have a copy of the lease for the upper maisonette but am having problems attaching it to this chat room. If you give me your email address I will send it now.

Joshua :

Thanks unfortunately I am prohibited from giving out personal email address by the site rules. Thanks. This is a defective lease - they are not overly uncommon and indemnity policies will be required on sale if it is picked up by solicitors but that is another issue. OK can you see in the lease a covenant to keep the flat in good repair. Even defective leases will usually contain such provisions?

Customer:

Yes there are lots. The main being (1) to paint outside every third year and to paint inside every seven years, (2) to repair uphold support cleanse maintain drain amend and keep the premises hereby demised and all new buildings which may at any time during the said term be erected and all additions made to the demises premises and the fixtures therein and all party and other walls fences roof footings joist sewers drains pathways passageways easements and appurtenances thereof with all necessary reparations cleansing and amendments whatsoever (3) to pay and contribute a rateable or due proportion of the expense of making repairing maintaining supporting rebuilding and cleansing all ways passageways pathways sewers, drains, pipes, cisterns gutters party walls party structures chimney stacks fences easements etc etc. (4) If in default may enter the premises and repair the same at the expense of the Lessee and expenses of such repairs to be repaid by Lessee (5) to keep premises fully insured, etc.

Joshua :

thank you. This is ideal. Based upon what you kindly post above, the deceased tenant is in breach of lease covenants and accordingly your friends can take a variety of actions against the deceased tenants estate and serve notice that they require that the property is brought up to standard as require by the lease.

Joshua :

if she has passed away intestate and no one is claiming her estate, your friends may wish to contact the official Solicitor who will in such circumstances be able to act as administrator for her estate

Customer:

How do they find out who the solicitor is

Joshua :

alternatively, if your friends proceed to repair the property themselves and hence become creditors of her estate, they could apply to act as administrators themselves though this would entail some significant work and they are unlikely to want to take on this role themselves and therefore the official solicitors likely to be a better option.

Joshua :

The official solicitor is a government body that among other things represents estates which no other family member comes forward to apply for probate

Joshua :

the official Solicitor can be contacted using the following details:

Joshua :

Official Solicitor
Victory House
30-34 Kingsway
London
WC2B 6EX

Joshua : (NNN) NNN-NNNN2762
Joshua :

if there is a provision in the lease that your friends can recover legal costs associated with any breach of covenant which is a standard provision in most leases than your friends can consider appointing a solicitor to represent them as landlord and recover the costs from the deceased tenants estate

Joshua :

once the estate is represented your friends can request the official Solicitor arranges to comply with the state's obligations under the lease failing which they can consider applying to obtain quotes for the repairs themselves and looking to the estate for the costs

Customer:

My friends are short of funds so would not be able to spend money on the property. What are their chances of owning out right the top maisonette. Is there a time period where if no action is taken the property reverts to the freeholder? They purchased the freehold over 10 years ago.

Joshua :

They would need to adversely possess the property as effectively squatters for 10 years or more and owing to a change in the law an application to be registered as the owners can be rejected by a person entitled to the estate should one come forward so this is a dangerous approach.

Joshua :

They may be able to acquire the property for a discounted price from the estate - which if there is really no extended family will go to the Crown - using buy to let finance owing to its conditions and breach of lease covenants but that may not be feasible for them.

Joshua :

is there anything above I can clarify for you?

Customer:

Thank you for your help. I will now have a chat with my friends and see if it answers all their questions.

Joshua :

A pleasure. If I can assist any further as the situation develops please do no hesitate to let me know.

Customer:

Ok thanks

Joshua :

Best wishes

Customer:

Just one crucial question from my friends. If in fact it is agreed that the covenants are broken now can my friends apply for the lease to be negated so that the ownership of the property reverts back to the freeholder?

Joshua :

They can serve a s146 notice following notice of breach of covenant. A s146 notice is a notice to forfeit the lease. However the courts will grant relief from forfeiture to an applicant that may come forward to reinstate the lease following remedy of those breaches of covenants.

Joshua :

However if noone were to come forward to seek relief from forfeiture then the flat would until such time as someone did seek relief revert to the freehold and would be the property of your friends as the reversionary freeholder.

Joshua :

They would need a solicitor to assist them with serving a s146 notice.

Joshua :

Is there anything else I can help you with?

Customer:

Would you be able to represent my friends in this matter and could you give a ballpark figure as to how much this would cost?

Joshua :

Unfortunately I am not allowed to accept private referrals under the site rules. A local solicitor firm should have no problem assisting them or for cheaper rates they may consider a firm outside of London which tend to be a little lower cost on average

Customer:

Thank you very much for your help. Brilliant.

Joshua :

A pleasure. I hope they reach a successful resolution.

Joshua :

If you have no further questions for now I should be very grateful if you would kindly take a moment to rate my service to you today. Your feedback is important to me. If there is anything else I can help with though please reply back to me though.

Joshua, Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 25358
Experience: LL.B (Hons), Higher Prof. Dip. Law & Practice
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