Often, where the owner of a flat has not heard from the landlord in a while, they will consider the landlord as “missing” but that may not necessarily be the case.
Your solicitor should check what enquiries have been made to try and locate the landlord. For example, the landlord may have died and his or her estate or personal representative can assist. Where the freeholder is a company and has been dissolved or struck off, its property passes to the Crown; there is a specific procedure and government department dedicated to dealing with such properties.
The concerns surrounding a missing landlord stem from the fact that under the terms of the lease, it is more than likely the landlord is responsible for insuring the building, repairing and maintaining the structure, and granting permission to carry out works to – or even sell – the flat. These are a few examples of why it is important to establish whether or not your landlord is truly missing.
Some lenders may be concerned about the maintenance of the building and consider the property is less valuable and therefore less marketable/mortgageable. As a result, some lenders may have specific requirements or refuse to lend.
It is therefore important to check with the seller how the building is maintained and insured and whether or not this is satisfactory.
Another concern is that if the missing landlord should in fact return in the future, they may look to enforce the terms of the lease, which the leaseholder may have breached during the intervening years; where the leaseholder has carried out unauthorised alterations or there are arrears of ground rent, for example. Your solicitor can arrange a missing landlord indemnity policy, which insures against the risk of a landlord taking action to try and bring the lease to an end for a breach.
Please also consider the length of the lease of the flat. You will need to know the whereabouts of your landlord in order to acquire the lease term extension. Where the landlord is missing, the process is more cumbersome.
BDB Pitmans is a multi-disciplinary UK law firm advising private companies, public sector bodies, not-for-profit organisations and individuals since 1834. Visit bdbpitmans.com