Owning a long leasehold, particularly one in a block of flats or which is part of a larger development, can be very different from owning a freehold. Typically the obligations of tenants are more proscriptive, being based on an acknowledgement that parts of the property are common and that there will be other people nearby whose rights need to be respected.

A recent case shows how important these issues can be. It involved an elderly widow who ran a bed and breakfast business from her £2.8 million flat in breach of her lease, with the result that she was given six months to leave her home of 40 years.

The company that owned the freehold of the mansion block where the ‘bohemian’ woman lived sought forfeiture of her 125-year lease on the basis of a covenant contained within it that required that her flat must be used solely as a private residence and not for any purpose that might cause nuisance, annoyance or disturbance to other leaseholders.

Despite her denials, a judge found that she had been renting out rooms in her flat on a short-term basis in order to supplement her meagre income. What she was doing could only be viewed as a business and other residents had complained of the noise from her constant stream of guests.

Attempts to persuade her to curtail her activities had failed and her neighbours had endured unreasonable levels of noise and disruption over very many years. The covenant having been breached, the judge gave her six months in which to arrange a sale of her flat. Failing that, her lease would be forfeited.


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