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What happens when a leasehold expires?

Tim Heming
Written by  Tim Heming
Jonathan Leggett
Reviewed by  Jonathan Leggett
5 min read
Updated: 30 Apr 2024

If a leasehold arrangement on a property ends the leaseholder could be a tricky situation. Our guide explains what might happen and how to avoid it.

What is a leasehold?

The term 'leasehold' in the UK refers to a property ownership arrangement where you hold the right to occupy and use a property for a specific period, known as the lease term.

Leasehold ownership commonly applies to flats, apartments, and some houses, and it involves obligations such as paying service charges, and possibly ground rent, as outlined in the lease agreement.

The land on which the property is situated remains owned by the freeholder.

What happens when a leasehold expires in the UK?

Action is usually taken to extend the lease before leaseholds expire, but if the lease runs out, several outcomes can occur:

  • Loss of property ownership. Ownership of the property returns to the freeholder entirely. The leaseholder no longer holds any rights or interest in the property

  • End of occupancy rights. As the lease term finishes, the leaseholder loses the right to occupy the property legally. They must vacate the premises as ownership reverts to the freeholder

  • Compensation. In some cases, the leaseholder may be entitled to compensation for improvements made to the property during the lease term. However, this is subject to negotiation and legal considerations

  • Potential renewal or purchase. Leaseholders may have the option to negotiate a lease renewal or purchase the freehold interest, depending on the applicable leasehold legislation and agreements in place

How do you find out how long is left on your leasehold?

You can review your lease agreement to find out how long is left on your leasehold. The agreement should state the original lease term and when it is due to expire.

If you can’t find it in your purchase documents, you can also request this information from the Land Registry, where records of leasehold properties are maintained.

A third option is to contact the freeholder or managing agent responsible for the property, as they should have records of the lease term and remaining duration.

Seeking professional advice from a solicitor or surveyor can also help clarify lease details and rights associated with lease extension.

How can you extend your leasehold?

You can extend your leasehold by choosing the formal or less formal route. They work in slightly different ways.

Statutory lease extension (formal route)

Under the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, leaseholders have a legal right to extend their lease by an additional 90 years and reduce the ground rent to zero.

This process involves serving a formal notice to the freeholder, starting negotiations, and potentially seeking resolution through tribunal if terms cannot be agreed.

Negotiated lease extension (informal route)

This is where leaseholders negotiate directly with the freeholder for a lease extension outside of statutory rights.

This approach offers more flexibility in terms of negotiating lease length, but it may not provide the same statutory protections as the formal route.

Which route is best?

The formal statutory lease extension route is generally recommended due to its legal protections and the certainty it provides regarding lease terms and costs.

While the informal route may offer more flexibility, it can also be riskier, as leaseholders may not have the same legal safeguards or rights to challenge unfair terms.

Should I buy a property with a short lease?

Deciding whether to buy a property with a short lease depends on various factors.

Short leases, typically considered to be those under 80 years, can decrease a property's value, affect mortgage availability, and lead to higher costs for lease extension.

However, they may offer opportunities for negotiation and potential price reductions.

Before proceeding, consider factors such as your long-term plans for the property, willingness to invest in lease extension, and how much additional finance you have to cover these costs.

Consulting legal and property professionals for advice on leasehold issues, potential risks, and the feasibility of lease extension can help you make an informed decision aligned with your goals and circumstances.

What happens if the freeholder refuses to extend my lease?

You have a right to extend your leasehold agreement under UK law, so if the freeholder refuses to engage, you may have legal recourse.

If negotiating with the freeholder fails, you could initiate formal lease extension proceedings through the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) or pursue a statutory lease extension.

It's worth seeking legal advice to understand your rights and the best course of action based on your specific circumstances.

Can I buy the freehold?

It may be possible. If you purchase the freehold, you become the owner of both the property and the land it sits on. This process is known as 'enfranchisement' and effectively makes you your own landlord.

Advantages of buying the freehold include not being subject to potential expensive management or property maintenance fees and making the property more attractive when it comes to selling it.

This route is not without challenges. Not all leaseholders will have the right to buy the freehold, and there might be pushback from the current freeholder.

The cost can be considerable and is dependent upon factors such as property market value and how long is left on the lease.

Conveyancing solicitors or lease extension specialists can help understand the costs and navigate the process to avoid any risk of legal mishaps.

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