Many long leaseholders mistakenly believe that they have much the same rights as freeholders and can do pretty much what they like with their properties. As one case strikingly showed, however, ignoring the terms of your lease can put both your home and your investment at risk.
The case concerned a Victorian house which had been converted into four long leasehold flats. Under their leases, tenants were subject to a number of covenants which, amongst other things, forbade them from doing anything that might cause a nuisance or annoyance to other residents. Restrictions were also placed on their use of the common garden and they were in particular banned from removing, damaging or disturbing trees, shrubs and other plants.
The company that owned the freehold of the house launched proceedings against one of the tenants, alleging that he had committed numerous breaches of those covenants. Amongst other things he had, without consulting other residents, installed CCTV surveillance cameras at the front and rear of the property that captured images of anyone entering the house or garden. Despite receiving a legal warning to cease and desist, he had pressed ahead with erecting a shed in the garden, digging up a number of shrubs and trees in the process.
Ruling on the matter, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) found that the installation and use of the CCTV cameras caused an annoyance to other tenants. The erection of the shed breached a covenant requiring that the common garden be used only as a private pleasure garden. The uprooting of trees and shrubs was a further breach of covenant. The FTT’s ruling opened the way for the freeholder to seek forfeiture of the tenant’s lease.