Licence to Alter: The Big Three

Depending on the terms of the lease, licence to alter can be required for any number of different types of work within a residential or commercial property. The most common types generally fall into one of three categories. These are described below with recommended conditions for landlords, which also indicate what is likely to be required of leaseholders.

1. Structural Alterations

Structural alterations are those with significant implications for the building as a whole, in contrast to changes to fixtures and fittings, which are more superficial. They often involve work to the load-bearing elements of the property, or change the essential appearance or shape of the property in other ways. For example, building an extension or knocking through a load-bearing wall are examples of structural alterations. If not carried out with due planning and care, such works can cause serious damage to the building, which would obviously concern the landlord as well as other affected leaseholders.

For this reason, landlords are advised to appoint an independentstructural engineer to review the proposals put forward by the leaseholder before granting a licence. One key factor to consider is whether the proposals take into account any other structural alterations within the building: e.g. previous work carried out in other flats in a block might have changed the load paths from those of the original layout, so nothing should be taken for granted. A second key factor is whether the proposals include adequate temporary works: e.g. propping for loads while work is undertaken should be approved by an engineer to minimise the risk of damage.

2. Installation of Hard Floor Finishes

In the case of flats, leases commonly require leaseholders to install carpet and underlay on their floors to reduce the noise from footfall or impact. In recent years, however, hard floor finishes such as wood, tiles or polished concrete are increasingly fashionable, which can lead to noise problems. In some cases, these problems do not emerge immediately, but only later, for example, when children are living in the flat. Clearly, if the installation of such flooring goes against the terms of the lease, the leaseholder can be required to re-instate carpeting, but the alternative is to install an acoustic insulation material, whether retrospectively or at the time the hard flooring is installed.

Best practice for landlords and their managing agents is to have a policy in place for granting licence to alter for hard floor finishes. This should include agreement on the insulation material to be included, taking into account the construction, new finish and performance or ‘benchmark’ target for the sound proofing. This should not simply be the minimum requirements to meet the Building Regulations, as these will not necessarily eliminate noise nuisance for other leaseholders. The policy should also include a post-installation acoustic test to ensure the benchmark has been met. In addition, before the works, a Schedule of Condition should be carried out for the ceiling/wallsbeneath the new floors so it will be clear if any cracks are the result of the works or were pre-existing.

3. Relocation of Wet Areas

The third common alteration is the installation of new wet areas such as en suite bathrooms or the relocation of existing kitchens. If landlords do consider granting consent for such alterations, this should be done on the basis of clear and specific conditions. In the case of flats, these should set a precedent within the block.

With any new wet area, it is recommended that a comprehensive system of tanking – waterproof material under the floor and turned up the walls – is introduced to help contain any leaks which may occur. Another consideration is that existing drainage runs may not serve the new wet area. In that case, it may be necessary to install macerators (‘Saniflo’ type units), which must be carefully maintained to prevent blockages and noise nuisance. Noise should also be taken into consideration when relocating a kitchen above a bedroom in the flat below, as both hard flooring and appliances like washing machines can be a source of noise nuisance.

Wet areas require services, including water and drainage pipes and mechanical ventilation, which may involve extensive work to external walls, so the associated complications must also be considered and mitigation included in any licence.

How we can help

The Licence to Alter team at Earl Kendrick is ready to help property managers and landlords deal with applications from leaseholders – or indeed to guide leaseholders in their own applications. Please feel free to contact us on