Question: Seven years ago I bought a flat that I believed had 70 years left on the lease because that was what the survey/valuation showed. In fact there were only 50 years left but my solicitor did not tell me that. After completion he sent me a copy of the title register confirming the true expiry date. I would not have bought the flat if I had known the lease was so short. I think my solicitor has been negligent — can you help?
Answer: When your solicitor received the contract papers from the seller's solicitor, a copy of the lease should have been included, and your solicitor should have provided you with a copy.
He should also have given you copies of other relevant documents including the fittings and contents form, and the property and leasehold information forms.
In addition, he should have provided you with a report explaining the title to the property and the terms of the lease. He was probably acting for your lender as well as for you. He should have seen a copy of the valuation carried out by the lender and should have notified them of any inaccuracies in the valuation report.
The term of your lease being 20 years less than you thought is likely to have an adverse impact on the value of your flat, which will impact on your lender, too. A short lease can affect the marketability of your flat and can also have an impact on your ability to mortgage the property, as lenders often require a term of 70 years to be unexpired from the date of the mortgage.
Contact the complaints officer at the law firm where your solicitor is based and if your complaint is not resolved satisfactorily, contact the Legal Ombudsman.
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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually but we will try to feature them here. Fiona McNulty is a partner in the residential property, farms and estates team at Withy King LLP (www.withyking.co.uk).
These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.