Absentee Freeholder – What Can You Do?

As you, probably know, I offer a Telephone Consultation Service, which includes the option of a quick 15 minute chat to discuss any particular leasehold issue that you may be facing.  These 15 minute calls are a great source of questions that I can answer on my blog and, therefore, help anyone facing a similar situation. This week, I was asked what could be done about an Absentee Freeholder.  This was my reply;

Dear ???????

I hope you found our chat useful. I just wanted to recap and confirm what I thought you should do.

You told me your lease is for a term of 999 years from 1852 … and your freeholder is not registered in the on-line section of HM Land Registry. This is causing concern because you want to carry out works to the property – but because your lease says you must not alter the property, you are worried a freeholder may subsequently turn up … you’d be in breach of the terms of your lease and a legal battle might arise. You would therefore like to buy the freehold, so this concern disappears.

So, what do you do?

I would suggest the first step would be to double-check the freeholder situation at HM Land Registry.  As you’ve tried and failed ‘online’ (which is not surprising if nothing has happened/changed since 1852), it doesn’t necessarily follow that you do have an absentee freeholder but you’re going to have to ask for a manual search.

To do this, you need to use form OC1 for this > http://www.landregistry.gov.uk/_media/downloads/forms/OC1.pdf.   When completing the form, under section 2b you need to tick freehold … as that’s the title you’re interested in … but in the blank space to the left, I’d hand write “freehold connected to title number ****” and add your leasehold title number.  HM Land Registry will be able to identify the building from your leasehold title and hopefully this will aid the manual search through the non-computerised dusty records.

It may take a few weeks for HM Land Registry to reply. When they do, you’ll one of three answers:

1.       The freeholder is a named person, an individual

2.       The freeholder is a company

3.       There is no record of the freeholder.

If the freeholder is a named individual, the next step is to try and find that individual. How we do that depends upon who and when. If it’s John Smith and the entry is dated 1852 – there’s probably little chance of tracing him or his ancestors. There are many John Smith’s, he will not be living after all these years, and tracing ancestors with a Smith surname will take forever.  On the other hand if his name is Richard Branson and his address was recorded in say 1990 – there may be more chance of success … but it will still be hard work.

If the freeholder is a company, hopefully that company will be recorded at Companies House. So the next thing to do is a search of the Companies House database > http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/  Again, the information may be useful or not so useful. If nothing else, you’ll have an address to write to or visit – or you may have an Official Receiver or Liquidator to contact, if the company has ceased trading. OR you may see the company has been dissolved – in which case save that information safely and read on.

If there is no record of the freeholder – or if the company has ceased to exist … or there is credible evidence the person has died and no traceable ancestors can be found – your next step is to contact the Treasury Solicitor > https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/treasury-solicitor-s-department  If you’d read my Leasehold Ebook (http://www.berniewales.co.uk/leasehold-an-owner-occupiers-and-buy-to-let-investors-guide/) you’d know that all land which is not owned by someone else, is owned … or reverts to … the Crown.  The Treasury Solicitor handles the legal affairs of the Crown … and in these particular circumstances, it’s the Bona Vacantia department you need to speak to. You can email them at bvinfo@tsol.gsi.gov.uk or telephone 020 7210 4700 and press option 1.

Depending upon the precise circumstances, I suspect you’ll end up here > https://www.gov.uk/refer-bona-vacantia-land-or-buildings-bvc2  and you’ll apply to the Treasury Solicitor to buy the freehold – or if necessary, you could serve a “Right to Enfranchise” claim as a leaseholder exercising your ‘right to buy’ the freehold.  There will be a valuation process to go through, but the freehold value for a property with leases having 800+ years unexpired will be quite small (depending on the ground rent payable) … and you’ll have to pay their reasonable legal costs et cetera.

At the end of what probably seems a long and complicated process, you’ll have bought the freehold. You could then dissolve your existing lease(s) and start afresh … but precisely what you do will depend upon the current use and requirements for the property – and that’s a whole other story.

Best wishes. Do let me know if you need help – and let me know how you get on in any event.

A little while later, I received the following response;

Hi Bernie,

Thank you very much for this. It is informative and very good education for me. I was informed by a few “experts” that if you could not locate the freeholder then you could not buy the freehold.

In the last few days we have agreed a sale price which is giving us a tidy profit, therefore, we may not need to purchase the freehold on this one, but it could fall through. And it is very good knowledge for future purchases/conversions.

Once again, thank you and I shall keep you posted on how things develop.

Kindest Regards

????????

Whilst the information may not end up being used, on this occasion, it’s good to know the process that needs to be followed in circumstances such as this.

If you have a pressing leasehold issue that’s worrying you, click here to find out more about my Telephone Consultation Service.

Do share this information if you’ve found it useful and I’d be delighted to hear from you if you have any comments.  Just scroll down to the form, below.

Bernie Wales
FIoD, FIRPM, AssocRICS


Comments

Absentee Freeholder – What Can You Do? — 27 Comments

  1. Hi Bernie, I recently managed to buy a flat in a converted house which had an absent freeholder (confirmed by a tracing agent). I’ve got an indemnity policy to cover me if the freeholder want rents etc.
    The house has one or two other flats but neither of these have been registered on land registry with separate leases, and hence I don’t know who owns it/them.
    I was wondering if its possible for me to enfranchise/buy the freehold of the property in this situation?
    Or indeed get a lease extension with varied terms i.e. so I can use the loft.
    Thanks!

  2. Hello Bernie,
    I have found a plot of land for sale with 21 years of a 400 year lease remaining, but there is no copy of the lease in existence and no one knows who owns the freehold. I wondered if it is possible for me to follow the advice you have given about absentee freeholders, to find out if there is any likelihood of purchasing the freehold, before considering whether to put in an offer for the property? Or is it only current leaseholders who can investigate and gain this information?
    Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Alexia

      The information at HM Land Registry is public information. Therefore you don’t have to be the leaseholder in order to find out what’s there.
      Go for it – and keep me posted. Good luck.

    • Hi Bernie
      I bought a leasehold property 24 years ago. At the time my solicitor could not trace the current freeholder and I have never been asked to pay ground rent. The house was built in 1905 and the lease if for 999 years. The original freeholder died in the 1920’s and records show that ground rent continued to be paid to the deceased freeholder solicitors up until the 1940’s. There are no records of ground rent being paid to any subsequent freeholders after the 1940’s. The deceased freeholder is still named as the freeholder on the Land Registry records as per the original 1905 lease. The freeholder’s solicitor went out of business in the late 1980’s and were absorbed into a larger company who do not know the name of the current freeholder (if there is one). I would like to buy the freehold but I am unsure about what to do next any advice that you can give would be helpful. Many thanks

      • Dear Alexia
        You have an intersting situation.
        I suggest you call me to discuss – but in short, you’ll need to contact the Treasury Solicitor … Bona Vacantia Department. There is a process for purchasing your freehold, effectively from the Crown, and set fees for doing so. You’ll also need a conveyancing solicitor to assist, whom I can recommend if you wish.

  3. Hi
    I’m trying to buy a flat in Cheltenham but have a problem as the lease is only 65yrs. The lessees run their own management Co (MCo). & thru this thought they ea. had a 20% share in the freehold. However, the original MCo was dissolved in 1992, a new 1 set up, with a slightly different name but the assets (freehold) was not transferred to the new MCo. Thus, I believe, the freehold has reverted to the crown & now lease extensions can’t be granted until the freehold is bought back. Help, do you have any idea what I can do? Gary

  4. Hi Gary, really hope you can quell my anxiety. Have just paid off mortgage off on a flat I purchased in 1988. I was only 26 then and didn’t take any notice of this ‘lease’ thing I was told about, although I do remember the owner saying something about a peppercorn rent.

    I have now received amongst other papers from Halifax, the lease document. However, I am thinking of now selling the flat (which is rented) but have found out that not only is the original seller dead, but also his daughter is dead and cannot trace any possible children she may have had.

    The property is only worth about 45 to 50k so any legal expenses would be disproportional if I were to consider trying to buy the freehold from the crown, if that is applicable.

    If I do decide to sell, what is my position. If you can advise I will be extremely grateful as I feel sick with worry.

    Thanks, Jackie x

  5. Bernie, this post is very helpful thank you. I have followed your steps above and I’m now ready to progress to the next stage. Could you recommend a conveyancing solicitor who’s experienced with Absentee Freeholder issues in order for me to progress my case.

  6. Hi Bernie,
    I own a flat (first floor)with a share of freehold (50%) and lease of 996 years. My relation with a co-freeholder (ground floor flat) has completely broken down. She threatened me that she will stop me from selling my flat. As she will have to sign TR1 if I am to transfer title of my share of freehold to the buyer- I think this will be very difficult. I would like to know what are the options available to me. Can i sell only leasehold and retain my share of freehold?
    Thank you
    Sangita

  7. Dear Bernie

    We have absentee freeholder. Crown Treasury has disclaimed our freehold. Freehold issue now in hands of Crown Estate, who can decide not to sell freehold. If they do this, what becomes of our young family? We don’t have much money, lease is 67 yrs remaining. Can’t sell because of this sitution.

    Sick with worry that there may be no resolution for us if Crown Estate leave freehold as ‘ownerless land’.

    Michelle

  8. My dad has a leasehold for 99 years on a flat. He died 3 months ago. Who do I contact to let them know his passed away? Ps. The landlord is really dodgy his lived at the property for pass 12 years. He says that my dad has nothing to do with the property but land registry says different! What do I do??

  9. – The UK land registry told me when I asked if I had the freehold to the building on my flat number 2

    There is a Head Lease  which relates to all 3 flats. 2 of the flats have been sold off and registered in their own right. Flat 2 remains in the ownership of the Head Leaseholder. There is no registered Freehold.

    – Can I register or ascend it as a freehold?

  10. Hi Bernie,

    Great post, thank you! I want to extend my home that I have ‘owned’ for 12 years now, but, it is leasehold and the freeholder is ‘absent’ – can I just go ahead and extend or are there rules and regulations that apply?

    Many Thanks
    Sam

  11. Hi. I’m buying a leasehold property but my solicitor can’t finish my mortgage because the property owner can’t find leasehold document and land registry don’t have a copy. Please advice me on what to do. Thanks

  12. Hi Bernie,

    Great post full of interesting and useful advice. I am about to purchase a flat with a lease of95 years but my solicitor has found out that no ground rent has been collected for over 10 years as the company went into liquidation. The crown haven’t claimed the freehold and none of the owners of the other 12 flats are interested in this (I’m sure they will when the lease is at 90 years). My main question is HOW do I get the crown to take over the freeholder and will this be costly for me?

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