Q&A: 'Are there specific trades you must practise in a live/work unit?'

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Q After the death of the joint freeholder of a property, I find myself as the sole freeholder of a house split into two maisonettes without being the leaseholder of either property. I would like to know what my obligations are as the freeholder and how I might find out whether there is a value to this and, if so, how I might dispose of the freehold.

Q After the death of the joint freeholder of a property, I find myself as the sole freeholder of a house split into two maisonettes without being the leaseholder of either property. I would like to know what my obligations are as the freeholder and how I might find out whether there is a value to this and, if so, how I might dispose of the freehold.

SM, by e-mail

A Presumably as a joint freeholder you were already doing the following: collecting services charges and ground rent, insuring and maintaining the property and keeping accounting records. You should have copies of the leases to see what has been agreed. At the end of the leases on the maisonettes, the properties would revert to you, however, the leaseholders would usually have the right to buy an extension. If you wish to sell the freehold you must offer it to the leaseholders first, once you have a valuation, or you can be prosecuted. You may consider selling the lease at an auction if they are not interested. Further advice can be found on www.lease-advice.org or by calling 020-7490 9580.

Q We are first-time buyers and have just had an offer accepted on a live/work unit. However, we can't seem to find any information on the regulations for such a space. Do we have to use the work space for our main income? Are there specific trades you must practise? Can you add partition walls? Neither the council nor the agents seem to know. We have previously been gazumped and are reluctant to incur legal fees at this stage.

MS, by e-mail

A You will have to return your search to the Unitary Development Plan, held at the planning department of the local authority where the property is situated. This should have a record of the planning consents that were granted and answer your questions regarding commercial usage of the property. The estate agent should have asked the vendor for confirmation of these facts as they could mean that you will be unable to use the property for what you had intended. You should also find out if you would have to pay a proportion of business rates and council tax. There is nothing to stop you being gazumped until you have exchanged contracts, however, I feel the agent should take the property off the market and give you at least two weeks to find out this information, as it is so pivotal to the sale. The likelihood of gaining planning for live/work schemes in some areas is becoming less likely as it is very difficult for the local authority to monitor activity on a daily basis.

Q I live in a block of 51 flats where the service charge in the last three years has been more than £500,000 because of major repair work. Since September 2002, I have not received statements for the work and advance payments. Anything I have received has been full of errors. I am now being told that an accountant is needed to prepare an account and the cost will be over £2,000. Is there a way to resolve this without resorting to legal action?

A Thorpe, by e-mail

A You should contact the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT), a Government body, which deals with disputes over maintenance charges and management. Telephone 020 7446 7700 for advice over your next course of action.

If you would like a query answered, e-mail: property q&a@independent.co.uk. Only those questions featured will be answered. Any advice given will not be legally binding

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