May 28, 2024 4:55 pm

Insert Lead Generation
Nikka Sulton

Neither leaseholders nor freeholders are entirely satisfied with the last-minute legislation.

The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill was passed into law today, marking one of the final pieces of legislation to get through the House of Lords before Parliament is prorogued for the upcoming general election. This Bill has been the subject of much debate and anticipation, with many stakeholders hoping for substantial changes to the existing system.

However, many of the anticipated changes aimed at easing the financial burden on leaseholders did not make it into the final law. Key reforms that leaseholders had hoped for, such as the elimination of ground rent for existing leases, were notably absent from the legislation. This omission has left many feeling that the Bill falls short of providing the comprehensive relief needed.

“This limited Bill is a muted win for leaseholders,” said Linz Darlington, Managing Director of leasehold extension specialists Homehold. “While the legislation has some merit, leaseholders must view it as a step in a journey rather than the final destination. There is still much work to be done to achieve a fair and balanced system that truly addresses the needs and concerns of leaseholders.”

The Bill does introduce some positive changes, such as simplifying the process for extending leases and making it slightly easier for leaseholders to purchase their freehold. However, these measures are seen as incremental improvements rather than the sweeping reforms that many had hoped for.

Secretary of State for Housing Michael Gove had initially aimed to abolish the leasehold system entirely, where homeowners pay ground rent to freeholders. This more radical proposal would have fundamentally changed the landscape of property ownership in the UK. However, political realities and opposition from various stakeholders meant that such sweeping changes were not achievable in this legislative session.

Earlier this evening, Gove announced he would step down as a Member of Parliament ahead of the election. His departure adds further uncertainty to the future of leasehold reform, as his leadership had been a driving force behind the push for change. With the general election looming, it remains to be seen how the new government will approach the issue and whether more comprehensive reforms will be on the horizon.

In the meantime, leaseholders and freeholders alike will have to navigate the existing system with these latest changes, hoping for more substantial reforms in the future.

Many London homeowners find themselves trapped by escalating ground rents and service charges that have become completely unaffordable. These financial burdens are particularly severe for those whose ground rents double every ten years, placing them under significant financial strain. As a result, one in ten London leaseholders are considering selling their homes to escape the mounting costs of owning a leasehold property. However, many are afraid that the restrictive conditions of their contracts could make it difficult to attract potential buyers, further complicating their situation.

Linz Darlington, managing director of leasehold extension specialists Homehold, expressed disappointment with the new legislation. “The bill does not contain many of the important provisions that were promised by the Government. The commitment to remove ground rent for existing leaseholders, or even cap it at £250, has not been included,” said Darlington. This absence is a significant setback for leaseholders who had hoped for relief from the financial pressure of high ground rents.

Another critical issue not addressed by the bill is the prevention of forfeiture. Forfeiture is a draconian measure that allows a freeholder to repossess a flat for a debt as small as £350. Darlington emphasized the severity of this omission, noting that it leaves leaseholders vulnerable to losing their homes over relatively minor debts. This provision, if included, could have provided significant protection for leaseholders, ensuring that they would not face the threat of losing their homes over small financial disputes.

The failure to include these measures in the bill underscores the challenges that leaseholders continue to face. While the bill does introduce some reforms, it falls short of delivering the comprehensive changes that many leaseholders were hoping for. As a result, the financial strain on London homeowners is likely to persist, with many continuing to grapple with unaffordable ground rents and service charges, and the ever-present risk of forfeiture hanging over their heads.

“There is no justification for ground rents. It is a cost to leaseholders for no service provided,” said Baroness Pinnock (Liberal Democrat), highlighting Gove’s earlier promise to reduce ground rents to a peppercorn rate.

“A significant number of landlords have their leaseholders by the short and curlies, to coin a term that was sent to me by a suffering leaseholder,” said Lord Bailey of Paddington (Conservative), illustrating the power imbalance between landlords and leaseholders.

Despite the new legislation, existing leaseholders will find no relief from ground rent. However, they will have the option to cap their ground rent at 0.1 per cent of the value of the freehold when extending their lease.

The Residential Freehold Association, representing freeholders, had stronger criticisms for the Bill, reflecting ongoing tensions between leaseholders and freeholders over the reform measures.

“The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill is a flawed and poorly supported piece of legislation that has ignored input from both the industry and leaseholders,” a spokesperson stated.

“The Government has rushed this Bill through without proper scrutiny, leaving potential for unintended consequences that could negatively impact leaseholders.”

Lord Moylan (Conservative), representing freeholders, criticised the cap as “another unwarranted interference with property rights, lacking understanding or explanation from the Government on the practical effects for legitimate freeholders, including pension funds, charities, and other parties.”


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