This is a question to the blog clinic from John who is a freeholder.
I am one joint freeholder (of three) of a converted Victorian terraced house. We each hold leaseholds for our individual flats. I own and live in the basement flat while the other freeholder owns and lives in the ground floor flat.
The new owner of the top first floor flat is a buy-to-let landlord who so far as not introduced himself to us or complied with our Declaration of Trust agreement for house meetings etc. He has engaged a local estate agents to act as his letting agents.
Yesterday on hearing a commotion upstairs I found a new tenant for his flat about to move in, together with a locksmith from the letting agents, who was about to change the common main front door lock – as the old key given to the tenant for this door did not work apparently.
I told them I had a key and would let the tenant into the hall to gain access to the door to her flat but asked the locksmith not to change the main door lock right now as the other property owner would not be able to gain access to her flat on her return later that night from her work at the hospital.
Unfortunately after I had left the locksmith returned and, on the instructions of the letting agents, changed the lock anyway – he did bring me down a new key.
In our freehold agreement no works may be done by any of the freeholders to common parts of the building without our joint consents and that includes the main front door to the common hallway leading to the two upstairs flats.
My question is were the letting agents acting lawfully by changing our main front door lock without our permission and what can we, the freeholders, do about it?
I did speak to the manager/owner of the letting agents and he was adamant they had every right to do this as they are acting on behalf of the ‘owner’. He was quite rude when challenged and wanted to know what my problem with this was!
The solution he offered for the other freeholder to get access to her flat was to leave the new lock ‘open’ and leave her a new key outside her flat for her to find on her return!
Answer (sort of)
This is rather outside my area of expertise as I do not do long lease work (or have not for many years) but I have published it as I think it is an interesting situation.
If, as you say, the deed of trust prohibits works without mutual consent then in my view, the new owner is in breach, through the actions of his agent in doing works where, not only were they not in agreement with the other freeholders, but were contrary to their (i.e. your) wishes.
What, if anything, you can do about it however, is something I cannot answer. I suggest that you read your lease and the deed of trust very carefully to see what they say. Are there any penalties for non-compliance set out there?
Although you also ought to look for clauses relating to works which are urgent and which have to be done immediately even if the other freeholders are not there to authorise them – it could conceivably be argued I suppose, that this fell into that sort of category. So it may be difficult to take any action on this particular issue.
Hopefully, you will not have any further problems, but the new top floor owner does not live in the property as you and the other freeholder do, so he will have different needs and objectives. You may well find that this is not the only issue where you are at loggerheads with him – or rather with his agent.
What does anyone else think about this question?