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I want to buy the freehold of my property but the landlord is missing

So, you want to buy the freehold of your leasehold home but the landlord or freeholder is nowhere to be found?

This is obviously not only stressful but complicated and specialist legal advice at an early age is key to getting the process right.

The Leasehold Reform Act 1967 enables you, as long as you qualify, to apply to the County Court to buy the freehold.

But first you need to show you have made all reasonable efforts to locate the freeholder.

How hard do I need to look for the landlord?

A few cursory checks are not enough. You need to establish as early as possible that your landlord really is missing.

For example, they may have emigrated, died or been declared insolvent. They may not realise, or may have forgotten, they have an interest in a building. They may have decided to simply ignore their obligations.

You need to make real efforts to find out what has happened to them. The courts will want to see proof you have tried to locate them before it will decide if you are entitled to buy the freehold interest, known as enfranchisement, from the landlord.

If your property is a house, you can proceed on your own. If it’s a flat, and there are only two flats in the building, you must act together. If there are several long leaseholders, you need at least half of them to agree to act collectively to buy the freehold.

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How do I look for the missing landlord?

There are several things you can do to try to track down your missing landlord. These include:

  • Contacting the Land Registry for a copy of the freehold title (although these records are not always kept up to date);
  • Sending a formal notice to the freeholder’s registered address asking the freeholder to confirm their contact details;
  • Speaking to other tenants who pay rent to the same landlord to see if they have contact details for them. Failing to comply with this request is an offence;
  • Placing adverts in the local newspaper;
  • Checking the electoral roll. This lists the names and addresses of everyone who is registered to vote by area;
  • Employing a professional tracing agent – this is best done through a specialist solicitor.

What if I find the landlord?

If you track down the missing landlord, for example, after searches of the electoral roll, your claim to buy the freehold can proceed in the usual way.

What if I really can’t find the landlord?

Buying the freehold in these circumstances can be difficult. However, there are statutory provisions enabling leaseholders to apply to a court for something called a Vesting Order which will allow the freehold title to be transferred.

If the court is happy that all proper efforts to trace the landlord have been made and the application is in order, then the Vesting Order can be granted without the need for a formal hearing.

What does a Vesting Order do?

This allows the title to be transferred once a number of steps have been followed:

  • An application is made to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) to determine the value of the freehold;
  • This value (also known as the premium) must then be paid into court. This triggers the signing of a transfer of the title in place of the missing freeholder;
  • The Land Registry will then register the transfer of the freeholder so that the leaseholder of leaseholders can manage the building on their own account.

What if the missing landlord turns up later?

If this happens, they can’t reverse the transfer but can apply to the court for the premium to be paid to them.

Get in touch

This is a complex area of law and taking specialist legal advice is highly advisable to ensure you comply with all the relevant rules and deadlines.

Wards Solicitors’ award-winning Property Disputes Team highly is experienced in all kids of property and landlord and tenant disputes and can provide specialist leasehold enfranchisement advice.

For further information or to discuss a dispute, please click here to see our Residential Property Disputes team.

Or to find the Wards office nearest to you, click here.

Why us?

Our specialist dispute resolution lawyers have years of experience in all types of property dispute, advising home owners, landlords and tenants.

We’re known and respected for our straightforward, pragmatic approach and we’ll talk you through your options, working with you to find  practical and cost-effective solutions.

Wards Solicitors’ specialist Disputes Team is singled out for praise in the 2020 Legal 500 Guide.

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