Will lofty ambitions cost me a packet?

I want to do a loft conversion above my flat but the council says I have to buy the space first. What will this cost me and will there be legal fees?
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Question: Live in a flat which I bought in 2007, above which is the loft space. I am the only person who has access to the loft, which belongs to my local council, as the freeholder. The loft is not included in my floor plan or lease, but I have been using it for storage since I bought the flat. The previous owner used it, too. The council doesn’t know I am using it. Is that a problem? I really want to do a loft conversion but the council says I have to buy the space first. What should I do, and what will all this cost me? Will I face legal fees? 

Answer: Read your lease in case there is a right for you to use the loft for storage only. It is also possible to have a licence to use a loft space, so the previous owner may have been granted one by the freeholder, which would not have automatically passed to you.

If there is no right in the lease and no licence to use the loft space for storage, you could regularise the position by requesting a licence from the council. It is entirely up to the council as the freeholder whether or not to sell the loft space to you — so you will need to negotiate this with them. 

The council is perfectly entitled to charge you a premium. Remember, you are likely to benefit from a loft conversion as the size of your flat will increase and the value will probably do so, too. It would be usual for you to have to pay an increased service charge, plus the council’s legal and surveyor’s fees as well as your own. 

A deed of variation will be needed. You will require building regulation consent, possibly planning permission and listed building consent where applicable, and the consent of the freeholder to convert the loft into living accommodation. This all costs money.

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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, email legalsolutions@standard.co.uk. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually.

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.

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