If you own a leasehold property you may wish to buy the freehold. But what happens if you have an absentee freeholder or missing landlord?
In such circumstances it will not be possible to serve an initial statutory notice exercising your statutory enfranchisement rights. To cover this situation, there are statutory provisions enabling leaseholders to apply a court for a Vesting Order, which will allow the freehold title to be transferred.
What does a Vesting Order do?
The Vesting Order does not itself transfer title, but allows this to be done once the value of the freehold has been determined and that amount paid into court.
The government's leasehold advisory service recommends obtaining professional advice at an early stage. This is particularly so where some or all of the leaseholders in a block of flats want to enfranchise, as there are various rules which have to be complied with and a special company will usually have to be set up. Fridaysmove can provide quotes from Solicitors and Surveyors who specialise in this area of law.
Initial steps that you should take to trace the freeholder
- You will first need to check that you are otherwise entitled to enfranchise. (click here for further information)
- If your property is a leasehold house then you can proceed on your own, but owners of flats will probably have to consult with other leaseholders in their building.
- Obtain a copy of the freehold title from the land registry, and send a formal notice to the freeholders registered address requiring the freeholder to confirm his contact details.
- If the freeholder is a company, a free search can be made with the register of companies to ascertain if the company is still registered, and notice sent to their registered address. (If a company is registered in a foreign jurisdiction this will be harder. )
- Try to contact anyone who has previously attempted to collect the ground rent or service charge – this might not be the landlord, but a managing agent employed by him.
- Get an enquiry agent to trace an individual – this would best be done through a Solicitor.
Applying for a Vesting Order
A formal application has to be made to a court, which is best done through a Solicitor with experience of these applications.
If the court is satisfied that the application is in order and that proper attempts have been made to trace the freeholder without success then a Vesting Order can be granted without the need for a formal hearing.
Applying to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal to determine the premium.
The fact that the freeholder cannot be traced does not mean that you can acquire the freehold without payment. An application still has to be made to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) to determine the value of the freehold, but the Vesting Order allows an application to be made without the service of the usual notice.
Transferring the freehold title.
Once the LVT has decided the value (or 'premium'), that amount has to be paid into court, which will then designate someone to sign a transfer of the title in place of the missing freeholder. The land registry will then register the transfer of the freehold title so that the leaseholders can then manage the building on their own account.
If the original freeholder subsequently appears he cannot reverse the transfer, but can of course apply to the court for the premium to be paid to him.
Getting professional advice
The procedures for acquiring the freehold title when the freeholder is missing are quite complex. Applications to both a court and the LVT will be required, which must comply with their rules, and a final application for registration of the transfer must be made to the land registry. For these reasons the government's leasehold advisory service recommends obtaining advice from qualified professionals.
Phone 0330 660 0286 now for a quote for all aspects of this work.