When acting for a client who is purchasing a property with the aid of a mortgage, a conveyancer is under an obligation to act within accordance of the duty of care to their client but also to the lender, writes Alice Seager, trainee with MJP Conveyancing.
The duty to the lender is governed by the Council of Mortgage Lenders, who describe themselves as "the representative voice for the residential mortgage lending industry".
They are an industrial body representing mortgage lenders in the UK - its members consisting of banks, building societies and specialist lenders. It is estimated that the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) represents 90% of mortgage lending within the UK
Leasehold transactions are long accepted to involve extra work for conveyancers - it is imperative that onerous obligations are brought to the attention of clients. There are issues such as ground rent and service charge etc to be brought to consider - but further the CML hand book imposes further conditions which are required in a leasehold transaction.
As such conveyancers are obliged to ensure that the lease applicable to the title of a leasehold property is "CML Compliant". The effect obligation renders the process of purchasing leasehold property to be arguably a complex one. This is particularly the case with older leases drafted prior to the introduction of the CML handbook.
The Basic Requirement of CML:
CML requires conveyancers to confirm that there is a good and marketable title to the property. Meaning that the property is free of any restrictions, covenants, charges etc which are materially detrimental to the value of the property.
It is arguable that leasehold properties by their nature tend to be inclusive of more restrictions and covenants than a typical freehold transaction. Therefore there are more aspects to consider when determining whether or not it is possible to guarantee that a property has a good and marketable title to a prospective lender.
CML Leasehold Requirements:
The first issue that a conveyancer should consider when reviewing leasehold title is the class of title that the Land Registry have granted. Ideally, this should be title absolute. Meaning that the title deeds are in order and that no other individual has a claim to the land. In respect to leasehold property, this means that the lease has been validly granted and that the lease under which the land is held is vested in the freeholder.
Where an inferior class of title is granted the CML provides that good leasehold title will be acceptable, provided certain other requirements are fulfilled. Good leasehold title is granted when the lessor's title is not registered with title absolute or the title is unregistered. I.e the leasehold title is registered but the freehold is not.
In this instance a conveyancer should be satisfied that there is evidence of the freehold title which dates back 15 years. Although the CML are providing instances where good leasehold title is acceptable - in practise this is not necessarily of much assistance to a prospective purchaser. If it is possible to provide evidence of the freehold title back dating 15 years, then it is highly likely that the Land Registry would upgrade the preferred class of title absolute and remedy the problem.
It is a further requirement of CML in leasehold transactions that the lease includes an enforceability covenant rendering it an obligation on the landlord to enforce other lessees covenants. The effect of not having such covenant in place is that a lessee, who is for example suffering nuisance from a fellow lessee does not have the ability to force the landlord to resolve the problem.
Conveyancers are required to further ensure that the responsibility for insuring the property is that of the landlord, one or more of the tenants or the management company. Conveyancers must be satisfied that there is a sufficient insurance policy in place for the leasehold property. There is no consistent approach to the issue of insurance, as times evolve the definition of "insurable risks" changes. For example, when older leases dating back to the 1970s and 1980s were drafted the need to insure against the risk of terrorism was not one contemplated.
If the Lease is not CML compliant?
If throughout the course of a transaction, it is deemed that a lease is potentially not compliant with CML requirements - the first course of action is to notify the lender and obtain their instructions. The onus is then often reverted back as the lender instructs the conveyancer to act in order to protect their interest.
The defect in the lease will then require rectification and there are few options available to clients in this situation. The first option is for the lessee and the landlord to enter into a Deed of Variation to alter the terms of the lease in order to comply with CML requirements.
Alternatively, lenders will often accept indemnity insurance in order to "remedy" the defect with the lease. However, prospective purchasers should note that this route will merely offer a "quick fix". Wherever possible conveyancers should seek to obtain a Deed of Variation to truly correct the defect.
It can therefore be concluded to establish that a lease is CML compliant "is not the be all and end all".
There are practical implications of the various covenants which must be taken into consideration by conveyancers when reporting to clients intending to purchase a leasehold property and these implications typically do not concern the CML.
Morgan Jones and Pett are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org