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What is a License to Alter?

Tuesday, 26th February 2019 | by: Justin Burns

When looking to undertake works there are numerous things to consider and professionals to instruct. Drawings for planning and then Building Regulations, the structural design and calculations, party wall surveyors and perhaps a solicitor for amendments to legal titles etc. but one requirement that is often little understood is the need to obtain a License to Alter.

Such a License is only relevant to owners of leasehold properties. In every lease, there will be a requirement for the lessee to seek consent from the freeholder before undertaking alterations to their property. The most commonly used term is that consent should ‘not to be unreasonably withheld’.

Unfortunately, not all alterations are created equal, so whilst a freeholder may not be able to withhold consent for the relocation of a bathroom, they may be able to if the lessee is proposing to reconfigure the flat in order to create an additional bedroom. For clarification, a solicitor will need to review the lease and report back to the lessee.

So, what is a License to Alter? It’s a legal document that outlines the work to be carried out, what conditions/standards will apply and what protections will need to be put in place. The whole purpose of the exercise is to protect the freeholder’s interest, which also extends to surrounding leasehold flats that may be affected by both the works and the altered property in the future.

The instructed surveyor will typically schedule the condition of any areas likely to be affected by the works including adjacent flats, communal areas and/or external areas and check them again at the end of the works. Any damage noted will need to be rectified by the lessee.

The surveyor will also request a range of best practice documents or information from appropriate professionals. In the case of, say, a basic loft conversion this may extend only to basic engineering details and calculations whereas the relocation of a kitchen could be subject to more bespoke tests by specialist professionals such as noise experts or a services engineer.

Practical considerations such as the need to access adjacent land for the purposes of construction or how the insurance for the building will be affected during the course of works are other examples of the types of investigations that will form part of the License process. A solicitor will prepare the draft license and add bespoke clauses relating to surveying issues to reflect the surveyor’s advice. If the works are major, there may be the need for an interim inspection to monitor compliance and the quality of the works

The entire process can feel like an unwanted and costly exercise from the perspective of the lessee, but it does have a practical purpose and is a legal requirement. If the process is not commenced early, it can cause substantial delays to a project.

If you require advice on a License to Alter please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 8546 7211 or by email.