Reader’s E-mail: I own a purpose built flat within a building of 4 flats. I replaced the windows in my flat 2 years ago, however I was the only flat to do so. Now there has been a s20 served and the windows form part of this.
Can I claim an exemption to this as I have already done this work?
Reply from Service Charge Dispute Guide
The answer to your question depends on exactly what it says in your lease.
This said, given that your landlord plans to replace your windows, it is very likely that your lease says that your windows are a ‘common part’ of the building where you live in the same way that the roof or the external walls are. If this is the case then your landlord is solely responsible for repairing the windows in your flat, rather than yourself. If you did not receive the permission of your landlord before changing your windows, it is likely you have breached the terms of your lease in doing the work yourself.
This point is very important in relation to your liability for any future works which occur to the windows in your building.
If your lease does not say that it is your individual responsibility to repair your windows in your flat, what that means is all leaseholders are expected to pay a share of the cost of works to any windows in your building in exactly the same way as they would be expected to share the cost of repairs to the roof. This would mean that under the terms of your lease you would be expected to pay a share of the cost of the work to the other 3 flats in your block even though you had no work done to your windows.
This situation occurs very frequently unfortunately. In an ideal world what should happen when a leaseholder wants to change their own windows is that they seek the written permission of their landlord, and check whether their landlord will agree to a ‘Deed of Variation’. This Deed of Variation would alter the terms of their lease to make the leaseholder responsible for their own windows, and relieve them of responsibility of paying for a share of the cost of repairing the windows in the other dwelling within the building where they live.
What I advise you to do is:
1. Contact your landlord straight away and make them aware that you have changed your windows. Windows need to be ordered a long time in advance of works taking place as they are made to specification. Whatever happens it will cost you more if the windows get manufactured.
2. Check your lease to determine exactly what it says about the windows in your building.
3. Check your correspondence with your landlord, and try to recall what conversations you have previously had with your landlord. Whilst legally you may be obliged to pay a share of the cost of work to the windows in the other three flats, you may have genuine cause for complaint if you have spoken previously to your landlord about changing your windows and they did not explain to you what might happen when they came to replace the other windows in your block. I suspect also that you changed your own windows because they were in a bad state and your landlord had not fulfilled their own obligations by effecting timely repairs. This would be another cause for complaint.
4. Leaseholders have a right to make a written response to a section 20 notice within 30 days of its being received. Any concerns you may have about whether the works described in the notice are really necessary should be stated in your response.