Laying a timber floor?
As more and more leaseholders apply to lay a timber floor where there was once carpet, how should this be handled by the diligent property manager?
It can be a tricky subject in blocks of flats, but the main thing is that the managing agent is there to ensure that the lessee sticks to the terms of the lease. If the lease says carpet only, then a Licence to Alter will be required if a change is proposed.
Of course, all leases are different on this subject and it is therefore essential that the lease wording is checked thoroughly before any work is done. A standard lease might say something like:
The lessee should "Cover and keep covered all the floors of the demised premises (except any kitchen bathroom and watercloset) with close fitting tufted carpet and underfelt or other form of underlay of a condition and quality approved by the surveyor and in addition if required by the surveyor a layer of suitable sound-insulating material in order to prevent undue penetration of sound to adjoining premises in the building or the group".
It is difficult to define "undue penetration of sound", but we have always taken this to mean that the new floor covering should provide at least as good sound insulation as the old carpet. Airborne sound is not usually a problem and can be easily dealt with by inserting a good quality sound-insulating layer under the new timber floor covering. However even with the best sound insulating material, a hard wooden floor will usually transmit more impact sound than a carpet.
In many blocks, there are often flats where wooden floors have been laid instead of carpet, often with mixed results. I would initially urge any leaseholder to reconsider laying carpet instead of timber if they can, as the lease requires. There are some extremely good and very modern carpets on the market now, which are suitable for the leasehold market. If the lessee is adamant about a timber floor, then they must take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the insulation is as good as possible. There are a number of firms that specialise in this type of work.
As I say above, the thinking these days is that this is best dealt with by way of a Licence to Alter, which alters the wording in the lease to allow a timber covering. However, there will be conditions attached to the grant of the Licence so that in the event of subsequent complaints from other residents the Landlord would reserve the right to insist that the lessee undertakes further work to prevent complaints. If a lessee wishes to go down that route they should firstly engage the services of a flooring company who will be able to give details of the specification and performance of their floor covering. This should then be submitted to the managing agent for review; they may be required to take instructions from the Landlord who might insist, for example, that a 'before' and 'after' acoustic survey to undertaken in order to establish whether or not the new floor covering is providing at least as good sound insulation as the old carpet. The lessee would normally be required to pay Landlord's costs involved in the grant of the Licence to Alter and the acoustic surveys.
WHAT IS A LICENCE TO ALTER?
Whether or not consent (a licence to alter) is required will be determined by (i) the scope of works and (ii) what the lease says.
In most leases, landlords place a restriction on the extent of alteration, extension or other changes and improvements to a property that the tenant can undertake during the term of the lease without landlord’s consent. Generally, minor modernisation works, such as internal decoration, will not require consent. The most common alterations which normally require a Licence to Alter include:
- altering the structure
- installing additional sanitary facilities
- installing new heating or alternative service installations
- cutting through an external wall
- removing any wall, solid or partition wall
- changing any windows
WHEN IS CONSENT REQUIRED?
Typically most leases will contain one of three provisions (or a combination of the three) in relation to alterations:
1. Absolute Covenant: prohibits the alteration absolutely. Only if the landlord is prepared to waive the clause will the tenant be able to make alterations;
2. Qualified Covenant: prohibits alterations except with the landlord’s consent;
3. Fully Qualified Covenant: the alteration may only take place with the landlord’s consent which must not be unreasonably withheld.
If the lease is silent on alterations then the tenant is free to carry out the alterations as he/she chooses.
In some circumstances, the Landlord and Tenant Acts of 1927 and 1954 provide that where alterations are necessary to comply with statute, consent cannot be withheld. Alterations are also a common source of dilapidations disputes, claims and financial burdens for the parties.