By: 27 March 2024
Revolutionising leasehold: exploring the impacts of the reform bill

Adam Davis is based in Leeds as a partner in the residential leasehold law team at Coole Bevis LLP. Adam provides insights into the leasehold and freehold reform bill, exploring the proposed reforms and the potential impact they will have on leaseholders and freeholders. 

 

Whatthe leasehold and freehold reform bill?

The leasehold and freehold reform bill (“the bill”) is the second part of a legislative package intended to reform the area of leasehold law. It follows the leasehold reform (ground rent) act 2022, which put an end to ground rents for most new residential leasehold properties in England and Wales. 

 

Why is it being introduced? 

In 2017 the government pledged to protect homeowners from “feudal” leasehold practices and announced its commitment to “tackling unfair practices in the leasehold market”.  As part of this initiative, the government launched a consultation process aimed at establishing the most practical measures to, as they put it, “improve consumer choice and fairness in leasehold”. The consultation received over 6,000 responses, and consequently the government committed to legislate on a range of areas identified within those responses. The bill therefore, following the implementation of the leasehold reform (ground rent) act 2022, represents the culmination of the government’s stated commitment to bring about leasehold reform. 

In a nutshell, or a peppercorn if you prefer (ba-dum), a major objective of the bill is to make it cheaper and easier for leaseholders of both houses and flats, to extend their leases or to buy their freehold.  It also aims to impose greater regulation on matters such as service charges, costs and management, whilst seeking to increase leaseholder eligibility for building safety protections. 

 

What’s currently in the bill? 

Some of the main provisions in the current form of the bill, designed to deliver the above objectives, include: 

  • Increasing the standard lease extension term for both flats and houses to 990 years, at a peppercorn ground rent. Previously, the maximum permissible term for lease extensions of flats and houses was 90 and 50 years respectively. 
  • Removing the minimum two-year ownership requirement for leaseholders of flats who wish to extend their lease. Similarly, it will enable leaseholders of houses to extend their lease or buy their freehold as soon as they purchase, instead of having to satisfy the current two-year ownership requirement. 
  • Introducing an outright ban on the grant and/or assignment of ‘certain’ long residential leases on houses. 
  • Capping the treatment of ground rents at 0.1% of the market value of the freehold interest for the purposes of calculating the premium payable for lease extensions and freehold purchases, thereby (theoretically) resulting in cheaper premiums. 
  • Increasing the eligibility of leaseholders within mixed-use buildings to enfranchise. Leaseholders are currently unable to enfranchise if more than 25% of their building floorspace is for non-residential use. However, The bill will increase this threshold to 50%. 

 

What may be introduced to the bill? 

The government recently published an amendment paper which listed all tabled amendments to the bill from the time of its introduction. These proposals, whilst subject to further consideration, could therefore still be incorporated into the final version of the bill and some of the more significant amendments include: 

  • A provision to abolish the right of forfeiture in relation to residential long leasesin instances where the leaseholder is in breach of covenant. 
  • A new clause giving the secretary of state the power to bring “non-qualifying” leaseholders within the scope of the protections of the building safety act 2022(“the BSA”), in addition to the power to bring buildings under 11m in height (or less than four storeys) within the shelter of the BSA provisions. 
  • Imposing an obligation on the secretary of state to,“have regard to the desirability of encouraging leaseholders to extend their lease at the lowest possible cost” when determining the applicable deferment rates,used within the valuation process. 

 

Where are we now? 

The bill has not yet become law and, at the time of writing, remains in the intermediate stages of its journey through the Houses of Parliament. 

It was introduced for its first reading in the House of Commons on 27 November 2023, and, having now completed its passage through that particular House, had its first reading in the House of Lords on 28 February. The second reading, which will take the form of a general debate on all aspects of the bill in its current form, including the recently tabled amendments, is scheduled for 27 March. 

Once both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have agreed on the final version of the bill, it will then receive royal assent and become law, likely as the leasehold and freehold reform act 2024 (although it could be 2025!). 

 

When will it be introduced? 

There is no definitive timescale for the bill’s enactment. However, Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up housing and communities, has previously expressed his confidence that it would be passed in time for the next general election, stating, “I’m absolutely confident this bill will be on the statute book by the time of a general election. It has widespread support in the House of Commons and the House of Lords”.

To provide some context on a timescale for the next election, in January the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, earmarked an autumn poll, stating, “My working assumption is we’ll have a general election in the second half of this year.” However, there is growing political opinion to suggest he could possibly call one as early as May. Either way, the next general election must be held before 28 January 2025. 

Therefore, if we are to place any stock in Mr Gove’s statement, the bill could be passed relatively shortly and put simply, the government is not hanging around with this one! 

 

Disclaimer: The information contained within the above article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication.

Image: Adam Davis, partner in the residential leasehold law team at Coole Bevis LLP.