Licence to Alter – What you Need to Know

Apartment Refurbishment in Battersea

When thinking of renovating a flat or apartment unit, where you are not the sole Freeholder of the building, you may need to obtain a Licence to Alter from the landlord, freeholders or board of directors in order to make any alterations.

This is a common condition of a lease and requires the leaseholder to submit an application for a Licence to Alter for any amendments or alterations to the structure, building services or layout of the property before any works have begun.

Here’s what you need to know if you haven’t come across a Licence to Alter before and want to understand some of the key steps in acquiring one.

The Licence to Alter

The physical Licence is a legal document written-up by a solicitor (appointed by the Freeholder company / Board of Directors) that accompanies an approved set of architectural, structural and services proposals and specification for the works you plan to undertake. Whilst, the Licence itself doesn’t sound too arduous, the application process and associated actions required can often be time consuming, and come with additional costs (that might not have been allowed for).

The following is a summary of some of the points you will need to consider when applying for a Licence to Alter, and the best approach to the application process.

Scope of Work to be Carried Out

Whether or not you need a Licence to Alter your property should be laid out in the legal conditions of your lease, however some of the supporting information and extras are often vague or contained within a different document altogether. As a starting point, it is a good idea to get in touch with your Managing Agent / Landlord early on to find out if the scope of works you are thinking about is enough to warrant a Licence.

However, in general, any major renovation works involving altering the existing building structure, building services (eg. Moving or installing additional bathrooms), altering the existing layout (such as demolishing or building new partitions) or making changes to external opening (windows, doors) are all likely to require a Licence to Alter. Minor redecoration works usually won’t require any formal licence.

The Application Process

The process is usually coordinated through the Building’s Managing Agent, who represents the Freehold Company / Board of Directors. Often, the first thing that they will ask you to do is send over a full set of proposals and structural drawings to their appointed Surveyor, who will visit the existing property and review all proposals from a technical standpoint to ensure that the works will not compromise the structure or services of the building as a whole, nor the neighbouring properties.

This process can take weeks or months depending on the responsivity of the Agents and Surveyors, and the complexity of the proposals. They will then make a recommendation to the Freeholders as to the validity of the proposals.

Conditions of the Licence

The Licence will often come with its own set of Conditions, sometimes laid out in a ‘Building Handbook’.

These Conditions are commonly included to control the nature and quality of the renovation and takes into consideration the building as a whole and the neighbouring properties. For example, one condition we have come across regularly is the requirement to fit any new timber floors with a specialist acoustic matting to help reduce sound transmissions to the floors below.

These conditions sometimes dictate key aspects of the development works; such as the location of drainage runs etc. and therefore it is best to begin this dialogue early on to understand the limitations and restrictions upon any alterations.

Working Hours

Another condition of a Licence to Alter is often restrictions on working hours. It is common for noisy works to be limited to a morning and afternoon period with no works permitted at the weekends or bank holidays.

Whilst this may seem natural, these restrictions on working hours can have a greater impact over the whole construction programme, resulting in the construction works taking longer (and often cost more).

It is important that these elements are understood and agreed prior to the contractor pricing the job, as these limitations will dictate the construction programme. In a recent project in Central London, the working hours had been changed to include a 2-hour lunch break. This reduced our working hours by 1 hour every day, and over the course of a 5-month contract, that time adds up!

Additional Extras

It is worth noting that the solicitors will charge a fee for drawing up the Licence, in addition to the Managing Agent charging a fee to coordinate the process. The Freeholder-appointed surveyors will also attract fees for their services; including site visits, review of initial proposals and ongoing coordination and inspections throughout the construction process.

These fees are all necessary to obtain the Licence to Alter and are payable by the leaseholder wishing to carry-out the works. In addition, some Licences come with a Premium attached, which is at the discretion of the Freehold Directors. This sum is usually agreed between the Directors and has no bearing on the value of the works, nor area of the renovation.

It is worth clarifying from the beginning if any Licence will be subject to a Premium and how it will be calculated, to avoid any unpleasant surprises further down the line. 

Schedules of Condition

Another common requirement that often accompanies an application, is for a schedule of Condition to be carried-out on the adjoining properties, prior to the works commencing. These schedules provide a written and photographic record of the pre-existing condition of the neighbouring properties before any construction works begin, and can be used to determine whether any damage has been caused as a result of the building works. Similarly, these schedules come with time and cost implications, which have to be borne by the leaseholder. 

Whilst it all sounds complicated and costly, if the process is considered and lines of communication between all parties started early enough in the design process, then the application process can run smoothly and the surveyors, Freeholders and neighbours will feel more involved and aware of your intentions. They will hopefully therefore feel confident that your renovation will benefit the building as a whole.

Please get in touch with our team at Granit if you would like to find out more about Licences to Alter.