21st May 2015

The trouble with flats

One of the many pleasures of our lovely District is the number of fine Georgian and Victorian buildings. Few of us can now afford to live in the fine style of previous generations and so many of these buildings have been converted into apartments whose number has been added to by developers from the 1960s onwards.

The benefits of apartment living are many; for down-sizers or those on the first rungs of the property ladder a living space that comprises a share of a large house can give lovely rooms with gracious proportions without the expense of sole maintenance of a large property. If you work away or plan a busy retirement of trips and travels there is the added appeal of buying a ‘lock-up and leave’. Buying a modern flat can give you a well-designed living space that suits the way we live our lives today.

There are however some potential legal pitfalls with flat living and as with so much in life a spot of preparation can save you heartache. Here are my top tips for the first time flat-dweller.

Who will be your landlord? Find out. It could be an individual, a group of individuals, a neighbour, a tenant-controlled management company, a professional landlord – or it could be you. If the latter, the pleasure of having control may be tempered by the burden of having to chase your neighbours for payments or organise repairs and insurance. If it’s an individual, do they manage the block efficiently? If it’s a professional landlord, are they too remote to care about the issues that are a real bugbear for you, or do they impose excessive charges for all they do?

What are your obligations as tenant? Are they acceptable to you? Be wary of anything that requires the landlord’s prior consent – this could prevent you from doing something that impacts on your future plans and happiness – from keeping a pet, to renovating, to letting to tenants, to converting unused space to living accommodation.

This sounds obvious but check what you are buying – often the loft space or basement does not form part of the apartment– even if there would be no access for another tenant. There is also a real difference between owning something and having the right with others to use it - or owning subject to third party rights.

Above all think about whether an apartment is for you; they don’t suit every one – although some of the flats I have conveyed have been part of a delightful community of charming and considerate people, sometimes living in close proximity to others means there is no getting away from the selfish individual who behaves as if the whole block is his.

Speak to your Solicitor at an early stage – at Berwins we will check the lease and answer these preliminary questions for you before you get too committed to spending money on surveys and searches – for a fixed fee.

Carolynn Peace is head of Berwins’ CQS accredited Residential Property Team. Call her on 01423 542775 or email Property@berwin.co.uk.

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