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What To Do If You Have An Absentee Freeholder

What to do if you have an Absentee Freeholder

(Last Updated: 29/05/2024)
8 min read

The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act 2024 was passed on the 24th May 2024, but is not yet in effect and the date for this is not yet clear. We will update our content as and when the finalised legislation is published.

Some of the expected changes include:

  • 990 year standard lease extension for houses and flats
  • Standardised format for service charge bills, for greater transparency
  • Leaseholders will no longer have to pay their freeholder’s costs when making a claim
  • Freeholders who manage their building directly must belong to a redress scheme, so leaseholders can challenge them if needed (already applies to managing agents)
  • Ban on sale of leasehold houses, except in specific circumstances and schemes
  • Fair and transparent buildings insurance handling fees
  • Removal of two year requirement before statutory extension

While the existing act abolishes ground rent on lease extension and new leases, the new act does not cap ground rent on pre-existing leases.

What is an absentee freeholder?

An absent freehold is a term used when the party owning the leasehold of a property is unable to get in touch with their freeholder. Having a missing landlord for some leaseholders may not seem like an issue because:

  • there are no ground rent demands; and
  • you can maintain the communal areas yourself, which means no exorbitant service charges.

The reality, though, is that you will be faced with a problem further down the line if there is an absentee freeholder.

Absent freeholder problems

  • Extending your lease
  • Buying the freehold
  • Freeholder not maintaining property
  • Selling a property with absent freeholder


    How do I extend my lease with an absent freeholder?

To start the Formal Lease Extension Process you need to serve the freeholder with a Section 42 Notice, however you can't do this when you don't know where the freeholder lives. Where you can't serve the notice of the freeholder, you need to apply to the court to get a vesting order.

Read more - How to extend your lease when you have an absent freeholder

What is the law when a freeholder doesn't reply to your notice?
Under the Trustees Act 1925: Part IV - Vesting Orders, in relation to the freeholder's obligation to send a counter notice, it states:

"...(vi)Where a trustee jointly or solely entitled to or possessed of any interest in land, or entitled to a contingent right therein, has been required, by or on behalf of a person entitled to require a conveyance of the land or interest or a release of the right, to convey the land or interest or to release the right, and has wilfully refused or neglected to convey the land or interest or release the right for twenty-eight days after the date of the requirement"

"...the court may make an order (in this Act called a vesting order) vesting the land or interest therein in any such person in any such manner and for any such estate or interest as the court may direct, or releasing or disposing of the contingent right to such person as the court may direct"


    Can you buy freehold from an absent freeholder?

What you need to do will depend on whether the freeholder is a limited company or an individual. If the freeholder is a company, it very simply exists - if it is registered with companies house - or it does not. If an individual is absent, you must first prove their absence.

Once the necessary steps have been taken to prove the landlord's absence, to purchase the freehold, 50% or more of the leaseholders need to serve a Section 13 Notice on the freeholder. As with a lease extension where you can't serve the notice of the freeholder, you need to apply to the court to get a vesting order.

Read more - How to purchase your freehold when you have an absent freeholder


    Freeholder not maintaining property

The value of a leasehold can be vastly affected if the communal areas of the property aren't maintained. Communal areas are set out within the leasehold and freehold title.

Right to Manage

With cases of freeholder not maintaining property, the leaseholders can take over the management of the building by setting up a Right to Manage Company. This will give them full responsibility for enforcing covenants, setting up reserve funds and maintaining the communal areas or they can appoint a managing agent to handle these responsibilities.

Buying the freehold

As mentioned above, you will need to prove that you tried to contact the freeholder and that they have abandoned the property. Once this is done, you can start the process of buying the freehold.


    Selling a property with absent freeholder

If you are considering purchasing a leasehold from a lease owner whose freeholder is absent, seriously consider the issues which you may be buying into. It may be worth looking for another property altogether.

Where there is an absentee freeholder, a leaseholder will have problems selling the lease. Sometimes, your buyer's mortgage lender will not proceed, even where the buyer has obtained the proper absent landlord indemnity policy.

Where a leaseholder has taken the view that they own the flat due to a long-term absent freeholder, they typically make internal alterations which breach the terms of their lease. The buyer's solicitors are likely to take issue with this. Normally, a deed of variation on the lease would cover these breaches legally. However, where the freeholder is absent, a deed of variation cannot be obtained. In these cases, the entire transaction is likely to fall through.

Getting absent landlord indemnity policy won't always solve your problems, as policies aren't always acceptable, and when you eventually come to sell, your new buyers will have to go through it all again, likely costing you sales or affecting your price.

Where there is a relatively short lease, you'll want to extend it when buying. As you can see from section 1 above, this is unlikely to be possible within the timeframe of your leasehold purchase.

How do you prove a freeholder is absent?

Failing to make all reasonable attempts to find the freeholder could lead to your application to court being rejected. To avoid this, you should:
  • Place 2 adverts in the local newspaper;
  • Hire a search agent to find the freeholder;
  • Physically attend the last known address of the freeholder; and
  • Check the probate records.
Ensure you have the evidence to prove you did them.

The Leasehold Reform Act 1993 | Section 50 states: "Before making any such order the court may require the tenant to take such further steps by way of advertisement or otherwise as the court thinks proper for the purpose of tracing the person in question."

What is the Absent Landlord policy?

When buying with a mortgage, if you have an absent freeholder the mortgage lender will require you to get an Absent Landlord indemnity Policy. A freeholder is absent for this policy if they are missing, unresponsive or insolvent and you are unable to obtain clear ground rent receipts at the date of purchase.

What the insurance covers you for is the risk for if the landlord or its successor reappears and makes a claim against you for unpaid obligations from your lease such as the ground rent.

Free initial leasehold advice

Arrange a free consultation with one of our experienced conveyancing executives on:

Lease Extension Solicitors Consultation
  • Lease extension
  • Purchasing the leasehold, freehold or share of freehold
  • Selling a leasehold property with a short lease
  • Extending the lease at the same time as you sell

We specialise in lease extensions and have RICS valuers for the premium/negotiation and solicitors for the section 42 notice and formal or informal extension.

Request a tailored quote for:
  • RICS Lease Extension Valuation or L2 Homebuyers Survey
  • Serving of the section 42 notice, or section 13 notice on the freeholder
  • Negotiation with the freeholder (with the support of your RICS valuer)
  • Completion of the legal work, including deed of variation
  • Application to Tribunal to determine the premium
  • Vesting order for absent landlords

Frequently Asked Questions
Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Written by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands-on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.
Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager
Reviewed by:

Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.

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