What are leasehold houses?
Britain has had leasehold homes for hundreds of years, but only in the past few months has the ground rent scandal exploded. Now the government is proposing a complete ban on new houses sold as leasehold, and reducing ground rents to zero. Traditionally, houses have been sold as freehold, and the buyer has complete control over their property. When a house is sold as leasehold, the buyer is effectively only a tenant with a very long term rental, with the ground the home is built on remaining in the hands of the freeholder. The home buyer has to pay an annual “ground rent” to the freeholder and has to ask the freeholder for consent if they want to make any changes to the property, such as building a conservatory or changing the windows.
Why have they suddenly become such a problem?
In the past, leasehold property owners were generally charged just a “peppercorn” ground rent, sometimes as little as £1 a year, and many freeholders did not bother to collect it. But the picture changed earlier this century, when developers started to insert clauses into leasehold contracts where the ground rent was set at £200-£400 a year, doubling every ten years. Direct Line estimates the typical ground rent to be currently £371. Although unsuspecting first-time buyers were frequently told that 999-year leases were “virtually freehold”, the clauses meant that the ground rent would soon spiral to absurd levels. The government quotes a family house where the ground rent is expected to hit £10,000 a year by 2060.
How many people are affected?
The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, which has vigorously campaigned on this issue, estimates that around 100,000 homebuyers are trapped in contracts with spiralling ground rents. There are many more people in leasehold flats, some of which also have doubling ground rents.
Is it just the ground rent that is the issue?
No. Freeholders are able to extract other sums out of their leaseholders in a variety of ways. Homebuyers report being charged £100 even to have a letter answered by the freeholder, and as much as £2,500 for permission to build a conservatory. These are charges that are on top of obtaining planning permission. Read more.