LIVING AT HELENA COURT, HIGHLANDS GARDENS
Photo: Tom Gilling
A Guide to the Lease
The lease each leaseholder is party to is intended to provide for the good order of the building and its maintenance, and to encourage good neighbourliness. Its clauses aim to avoid disputes by seeking to regulate possible issues that may arise.
After becoming landlord in 1990, the Association had the lease's terms checked by an independent solicitor and these were found to be fair and well adapted to the circumstances of Helena Court at the time. Click here to see a specimen lease.
Because the lease was established in 1978 as a 99 years lease, by 2014 it was running out for mortgage purposes. It was also by then not up to date with modern legislation or fully adapted to future requirements. The Residents Association in close cooperation with the local solicitors Butters David Grey for drafting therefore adopted a replacement 999 year lease in 2015. A number of leaseholders are now bound by this improved and more valuable lease. It is expected that all of most leaseholders will have signed it by the end of the first part of 2017. A copy of the new lease is available from Butters David Grey.
The lease, old and new, is a document that governs the essentials of living at Helena Court. Every leaseholder needs to understand its terms, because they are binding and bring rights and responsibilities. These are the main items.
1. Liability: Basically what is inside or part of the flat, incluidng the windows, is the resident's responsibility. This includes insuring the contents and against damage arising in or from the flat. What is outside the flat, including the painting and routine repair of windows but not the window frames themselves, is a HCRA responsibility; this includes insurance for related risks.
2. Paying service and sinking fund charges: Without money, the place will fall apart. So the lease requires that we pay service charges on time and for the full amount. These go to the property's maintenance including its management and improvements necessary to maintain a good quality of life at Helena Court. The AGM determines the policy on service charges; the Board decides with the managing agent how the money should be spent and the actual level of charges within guidelines set by the AGM. Routine works that arise over each year are covered by the service charge. A reserve fund covers major but less frequent works as well as significant improvements. The managing agent is required to recover any arrears promptly. Late payment is unfair to those who pay on time, can stall works, and ultimately jeopardize the state of the building and gardens.
3. Use of the Flat: The Flats are to be used as places to live, not factories, labs or business facilities.
4. Quiet Enjoyment: The building is solid enough; however, sound travels up and down through the floors and some walls (especially ones with hidden chimneys) and so can cause nuisance. Everybody is hence expected to be considerate and not to annoy, disturb or inconvenience anyone. The lease gives each leaseholder the right to "peaceably hold and enjoy" their flat, and makes clear that it is necessary at all times to be sensitive to the noise issue. For this reason, playing musical instruments is essentially forbidden (a piano can be heard throughout the building), as is of course playing televisions and audio equipment loudly, shouting and holding loud parties. Even washing machines and dishwashers can cause disturbance at late hours, and thus the lease calls generally for hush between the hours of 11pm and 8am.
5. Making Changes: We can paint, decorate and improve our own flats and are encouraged to do so. But the garden, hallways and outside of the building are "common ways" or areas and are therefore matters for the Association through the Board of Directors. Ideas for improvements (including by voluntary work) must be brought up at an AGM or with Directors.
6. Rubbish: Communal bin facilities are provided but they are only intended for normal household waste, not for large-scale dumping. Large items (old arm chairs, fridges, beds, mattressing) must be disposed of privately, not left in the garden or in any external areas.
7. Aerials, Washing Lines etc: Sorry -- the lease says that we can't just bolt a satellite dish on the wall or put up a washing line in the garden. The building has a terrestrial aerial on the roof. Suggestions for cable or a communal satellite dish have been raised and are currently under consideration as improvements.
8. Pets: These are not encouraged, particularly dogs. In the past dogs left alone have barked for hours causing severe nuisance to residents. (The lease forbids any pet that might be a nuisance to any resident.)
9. Advertising and improper use of Flats: The lease says that we can't put up posters etc. in windows. Nor can flats be used 'for any purpose of an illegal immoral improper unpleasant noisy or noxious nature'.
10. Subletting: This is considered a business, whereas Helena Court is a place for people to live in quiet enjoyment of their homes. A leaseholder engaging in subletting will be held to a high standard of responsibility which includes ensuring that their tenant knows and has signed up to the estate regulations in force. The leaseholder is liable for any failings on the tenant's part, including obtaining adequate insurance cover for the content of the flat. The new lease introduces a clear procedure on subletting which will be the norm for the building. Please be sure to consult the lease and the managing agent if you intend to sublet.