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The Importance Of Consent Remains Unaltered: Alterations To Property: Court Orders Reinstatement Of Property Following Unauthorised Alterations Made By Tenant

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Where a tenant made alterations to a property without consent, this recent County Court decision determines the penalties to be imposed. JB Leitch successfully represented the management company in this claim.

The background

The Lock Building Management Company Limited v Wilkinson [2021] concerned a duplex apartment in central Manchester of which the defendant held a long lease. The claimant was the management company appointed to manage the maintenance and upkeep of the building. The lease contained a covenant on the part of the tenant, “not to make any alterations in or additions to or cut mutilate or injure the structure of the walls or timber of the Property or remove any of the Landlord’s fixtures.”

The management company became aware of extensive works being undertaken by the tenant to the property, which included the removal of internal walls and fire doors, reshaping and enlarging of rooms and repositioning of plumbing and electrical installations. The management company initially had no knowledge of the said works which were carried out without licence or consent. The tenant sought retrospective consent (which was not granted owing to the lease containing an absolute prohibition) but was given a grace period within which to restore the property. The tenant agreed to undertake such works, but an inspection revealed that no restoration of the property had been undertaken.

The management company commenced proceedings seeking a declaration that the tenant was in breach and an order for specific performance or, in the alternative, an injunction ordering the tenant to restore, together with damages and costs. It did not consider that damages in lieu was an appropriate remedy.

Outcomes & Advice

The County Court found in favour of the claimant, making an Order that the reinstatement works be undertaken by the tenant and completed within a timescale of around three months.

The defendant’s defence stated that the works did not impact the structure of the building, but that it merely moved internal walls to make the space more contemporary. The defendant further stated that removal of doors and rewiring and plumbing works did not constitute alterations to the structure of the building and argued that the claimant would not suffer loss as a result of the works.

The Court agreed with the expert evidence presented by the claimant, particularly in respect of the works which adversely affected the fire safety of the property. Reinstatement works were ordered to be made in accordance with plans presented to the Court and included reinstatement of internal walls, fire proofing of internal doors and fire proofing of lights. The claimant was permitted to inspect the works following the completion of such works, and the defendant was to use best endeavours to obtain a Building Regulation Certificate, together with certification of electrical works. Further, the defendant was ordered to make payment of the claimant’s costs on the indemnity basis.

JB Leitch is pleased to have secured this successful Judgment on behalf of the management company where significant works were undertaken in breach of lease provisions. The Court Order will ensure the ongoing safety of the building through the reinstatement of fire doors, internal walls and lighting, whilst fully indemnifying the management company in respect of its costs incurred in the defended action.

This is a positive outcome for landlords, management companies and managing agents. It demonstrates that, with sufficient evidence and particularly where fire safety is at issue, the Courts will be prepared to order reinstatement of unauthorised works rather than pursuing retrospective consent and damages.

For further information contact us.

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