Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Ye Olde England

My mother never understood it. None of my French friends understands it. I myself don’t understand it (in the sense that I don’t understand how it can still exist).

What is it that’s so puzzling?

The leasehold system, of course. That legacy of feudal England. So quaint, so ridiculous, so unfair!

I’ve owned my flat for over 10 years, but if I lived another 70 years I would have to hand it back to the landlord – the holder of the freehold, the owner of the land on which my block of flats is standing – and I would find myself homeless at the age of 127.

How preposterous is that? When I buy something I can normally assume it belongs to me – for good. Can’t I?

The leasehold system in London (it’s mostly Londoners who are affected by it) means that, although you may have forked out hundreds of thousands of pounds, you only own your flat for a limited period of time, decided in advance. You have to be aware of it at the time of purchase. If two identical flats are on the market, the one with the longer lease is usually the more expensive and certainly the more desirable: mortgage lenders don’t offer loans on flats with short leases and cash buyers don’t want to purchase them either. When the number of years left on a lease gets dangerously low and the flat becomes practically impossible to sell, you can have the lease extended, but, of course, you have to pay the landlord (again!!!) quite large sums of money for the privilege.

My particular block of flats is run by a firm of managing agents: we pay service charges to cover staff salaries, maintenance, heating, etc. The accounts are audited once a year and no one really argues about how the money is spent. A few years ago residents of blocks of flats acquired the right to buy the freeholds and manage themselves (if the required number of people agreed), but being at the mercy of other owner-occupiers, who may or may not care whether the building they live in is kept in good nick, is a frightening thought. Luckily, others feel like me and would resist any such move. It’s bad enough trying to get things done through an official body; I can’t think how we would fare if, for instance, people living on the upper floors had to beg the ones living on the ground floor to pay for repairs to the lift. The latter might say, “We never take the lift; we couldn’t care less if it never works again.” (I’m on the second floor and I hardly ever take the lift, but I know we all have to contribute.)

Best case scenario:
1) you know your lease will outlive you
2) you have no intention of ever moving
3) you have no heirs and don’t care what happens to your property after your death

What gets me is that we have to pay the landlord ‘ground rent’. ‘Ground’ rent!!! I don’t live on the ‘ground’ floor; why do I have pay that person for the use of his ‘ground’? Furthermore, not all the residents pay the same amount: how can the ‘ground’ be worth a different amount of money if you live on a different floor? There are over 100 flats in my building and the landlord gets ground rent from each of them – that’s a nice tidy sum for absolutely nothing. On top of that, it goes up every 25 years: in 2001, my share went from £100 to £200 a year, i.e. a 100 per cent increase. I was livid.

The whole thing makes me mad anyway so I’m slapping whoever let that feudal system carry on into the 21st century. It's not on. Slap!


  1. Whoa! I don't like this system at all! Weird. And SO not fair!

    Give'em hell!

  2. Well, it is an English way of arranging things, isn't it?
    Slap them while you can.

  3. Nothing to add to this except that I back up everything you say. Every day the arguments for moving back to Scotland increase.

  4. TLP, the first time you hear about this system - usually when you're enquiring about a property for sale, you just laugh your head off. Unfortunately, it's true. :-(

    Elan, I've always known I had too much common sense for this country.

    The Scots do a lot of things much better, don't they, GSE? They're more rational, more 'French'. LOL!

  5. They have some scheme going on don't they!!? Off subject,why do English insist on saying herb with a strong H sound.I thought it was French and the H was silent.Strange question,I know.

  6. CH, 'herb' doesn't come from the French, it comes from the Latin 'herba' - just like the French word 'herbe'. Both languages pronounce their respective word the way they do most words beginning with 'h'. Anyway, not all French words beginning with 'h' are pronounced as if there wasn't one: quite a few 'h's are sounded, well, not sounded as such but taken into account. Like 'haricot', 'hibou', 'halles'. That is, you cannot do a liaison with those words. You cannot say 'des-z-haricots', 'des-z-hiboux', or 'Les-z-Halles' (please note if you go to Paris).

  7. Thank you! I stand corrected.So when it is a liason the H is pronounced.Correct?Forgive my silly questions but I've only had 1 yr of French but I do try my darndest to take care and who better to ask than a true French lady living in London!!LOL

  8. that hardly sounds like it can be legal! that really stinks bela.

  9. I think what Bela means is not that you pronounce the H in those cases, but you don't act as if the word begins with a vowel. So where 'les allées' would be prounounced 'lez-allées' - the liaison in question being the sounding of the normally silent S at the end of 'les' to make the whole thing run on nicely - 'Les Halles' is instead pronounced 'Lay Alles' - you don't pronounce the H but you take account of it. But you have to learn which French words beginning with H do this and which don't, isn't that right, Bela? Sorry if I jumped in, please correct me if I'm not explaining right - CH, please check back later for Bela's approval or corrections and don't take my word for it, LOL!

    By the way, yep, I agree, leasehold stinks. Full stop.

  10. (PS I should add that the only reason I know about this is that Bela herself had occasion to explain it to me some while back, so that I said Les Halles right when asking for directions on a trip to Paris. It's not the kind of thing they teach you at school.)

  11. That's freaky. And people actually stand for this? Geez. There's something to be said for tradition and all sometimes, but this is a ridiculous scheme.

  12. L, you've explained it perfectly. You do need to learn with which words beginning with 'h' one cannot do a liaison (= link) and one has to take the 'h' into account. Even French people make mistakes. I can't remember how many times I've heard someone say 'leh-z-arico' (les haricots), instead of 'leh-arico'. However, no one would dream of saying 'leh-z-al' (Les Halles).

    CH, had I known you'd only had one year of French I wouldn't have confused you with all this. Sorry.

    K & K, you've said it: it stinks.

  13. That system DOES suck, especially if you have heirs and would like to help them avoid homelessness. When the lease is up, do you/they get the option to "rebuy"?

    Unlike most good liberals, this is the way I feel about inheritance/estate taxes. The whole practice strikes me as double taxation. If you've already earned the money and paid taxes on it, your earnings become part of the family coffer. That you can't give it to your heirs without it being taxed again seems wrong to me. Ironically, my lover (I mean my husband... er, SPOUSE) took the opposite stance on this issue during a recent conversation, which was fun because it represented a flipflopping of our typical political perspectives. His view was that very wealthy people have been treated well by the social system and need to accept the responsibility of "giving back" to that system upon their death. I thought that was an interesting and sensitive perspective. I do, however, think he'd agree with your rant. It's one thing to have to give up a small portion of one's inheritance, quite another to give up one's home.

  14. I told someone here today about this system. She didn't believe me. I had to show her your post. (She doesn't do computers at all.)

    I didn't blame her for thinking that I'd misunderstood the situation. It's crazy.

  15. Has there ever been a serious movement to abolish this outrage? If they could finally get around to the last stages of reforming the House of Lords, surely this feudal system isn't impossible to surmount. Aux barricades, dear Bela.

  16. WW, I agree with you that inheritance tax is tantamount to double taxation and thresholds vary so much depending on what country you live in! For instance, when my mother died in France, in 1996, the threshold there was £25,000 (which was the price of a very small flat and therefore meant that practically everyone had to pay inheritance tax). By contrast, the threshold in England was a very generous £250,000 and only the very rich were liable to pay it. I certainly wouldn't have had to pay anything at all.

    Yes, when the lease is up you can have it extended. Generally, you have to 'buy' an extension long before it expires because, as I said, it's very difficult to sell a flat with a short lease. Mine still has 70 years to go, but that's considered rather short and I'll have to extend it when I decide to put my flat on the market, otherwise no one will want to buy it. Either that or I'lll have to lower the asking price to allow for the fact that the new owner will have to pay for an extension him/herself.

    You see, TLP, no one understands it. My mother was adamant that it couldn't possibly be. (But, then, she also refused to believe that, at the time I bought my first flat, my mortgage increased by £1.34 per day instead of decreasing. LOL!)

    There are so many things here that date back to the bad old days of the all-powerful squires I'm surprised the droit du seigneur isn't still in force.

    F, the right to buy freeholds from landlords is as far as they went to amend that system. Leasehold might be abolished in the future, but I wouldn't hold my breath... Ground rent is very lucrative and landlords are not eager to give it up. I would storm the House of Lords if I thought it would do any good, but it's much much stronger than the Bastille. :-(

  17. I can't even comment on this because it makes absolutely no sense to me. I've read the post at least three times, and I still can't figure it out.
    Antiquated laws, when people probably only lived to the age of 40.
    And a feisty girl like you will probably make it to 127...

  18. SL, I intend to make it to 127 just so I can show them how horribly cruel the system is. LOL!


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