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!