Emily Hill Emily Hill

Help! I’m trapped in a leasehold flat

Generation Rent, we are always being told, are fed up of having to pay ‘dead’ money to their landlords. The rate of home ownership among 35- to 44-year-olds plunged from 74 per cent in 2003 to 56 per cent in 2019. But no one should think they will necessarily be better off, or feel more in control of their destiny, if they succeed in taking the plunge and buying a home. They could end up like me.

Notionally, I have become a home owner by virtue of buying a one-bedroom flat in an ‘affordable housing’ scheme in Wandsworth, south London. Yet I feel more like a serf who must pay an exorbitant annual tithe to her feudal overlord. In common with the ‘owners’ of Britain’s other 4.6 million leasehold properties, I will never actually own my property. The lease I bought is really just a long rental contract. The difference between this and the shorthold tenancies which govern
most private rentals is that we, the leaseholders, have to stump up the cost of maintaining the building through ‘service charges’, levied on us by a management company employed by the freeholder. We also have to pay annual ‘ground rent’. The freeholder, not the leaseholder, decides which contractors to employ. We just get the invoice.

I feel more like a serf who must pay an exorbitant annual tithe to her feudal overlord

The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, presented in parliament last week, promises to make life better for leaseholders. I ought to be full of hope. After all, in 2018, Rishi Sunak – then a local government minister – called leasehold a ‘scam’. But I am not holding my breath.

The proposals have already been watered down. When they were first put forward, the government was promising to abolish the leasehold system altogether, or at least to ban the sale of new apartment developments as leasehold.

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