Flat owners given right to buy their freeholds: Vivien Goldsmith describes how a change in the law due to take effect on 1 November will be of particular benefit to organised groups of residents

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The Independent Online
The law on leasehold will be changed in a week, giving almost all 1.1 million flat owners the right to buy their freeholds or extend their leases.

'The act makes it look more complicated than it really is,' says Tim Curran, a surveyor who specialises in leasehold reform.

Small blocks of flats or houses converted into flats will be best placed to organise buying the freehold collectively.

'The first thing people should do is talk to their neighbours,' says Mr Curran. 'Then they can see whether they are eligible and weigh up benefits, savings and costs.'

Landlords have always been able to sell to tenants, but the new law gives the owners the right to buy.

A survey by the Joseph Rowntree Trust found that 40 per cent of leaseholders have freeholders who are private individuals, another 40 per cent have company freeholders and a small proportion have charities or local authorities. Ten per cent of flat owners did not know who their freeholder was.

Two out of three leaseholders reported problems from the action or inaction of freeholders.

These people will be spurred into talking control so that repairs and maintenance can be carried out speedily and at reasonable cost.

Hugh Jones Wilson, the Conservative leader of Lambeth Council, lives in a mansion block of 12 flats in Clapham, south London. The tenants have spent pounds 7,000 to pounds 8,000 on lawyers and surveyors' professional fees sorting out maintenance problems with the landlord.

'We are ready to go on 1 November,' he says. 'We want to go ahead as soon as possible.'

To buy the freehold two-thirds of the flat owners need to qualify - eight in this case. In fact nine are keen to buy the freehold. The other three flats are on company leases. Two-thirds of the two-thirds have to go ahead - six in this case.

Philip Wilson used to live in a block of 18 flats in Bloomsbury, London, where the flat owners' lives were made hell when the landlord built six penthouse flats on top of the building. 'We were surrounded by scaffolding for two years,' he recalls. 'Ceilings collapsed and we got flooded during the building work. After two years we received compensation for the actual damage, but nothing for the stress and strain.'

Copies of the book Buying Your Freehold or Extending Your Lease, by Timothy Curran, cost pounds 11.99 including packing and postage. Cheques should be made payable to Leasehold Enfranchisement Ltd and sent to that company at The Swan Centre, Fishers Lane, Chiswick, London W4 1RX.

The Independent has 10 copies of the book to give away to anyone willing to take part in a review of how the act works in practice. Mark applications for the book 'Free Draw' and include a daytime telephone number. The first 10 taken from the hat will receive a free copy - and a telephone call to check on progress later in the year.

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