Court crushes leaseholders’ hopes

Leaseholders have been dealt a blow after a court ruling failed to make it cheaper for people to extend their lease or buy a freehold. Emma Lunn reports.


Sloane Square in Chelsea: a landmark ruling here means it won't get cheaper to extend a lease
(Image credit: Credit: robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo)

Leaseholders were dealt a major blow last week when a landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal failed to make it cheaper for people to extend their lease or buy a freehold. The case, Mundy v the Sloane Stanley Estate, involved a small flat in Chelsea. The lease duration had fallen to less than 23 years, and the freeholder, the Sloane Stanley Estate, had sought £420,000 from the leaseholder to extend it.

The case was led by surveyor James Wyatt, who argued that the mathematical models used in the current valuation system, which uses "relativity graphs" to set the value of short leases relative to the freehold, wrongly award too much to the owner of the freehold.

Wyatt, formerly head of valuations at one of the surveying firms behind the current system, put forward an alternative relativity graph that would have lowered the costs for lease extensions for leases below 80 years. Under Wyatt's suggested model, the premium for a lease extension could have been halved in some cases.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

The decision to rule in favour of the Sloane Stanley Estate upholds a previous verdict by the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) in May 2016, and is "absolutely devastating" for leaseholders, says Louie Burns of Leasehold Solutions, a firm that helps people extend their leases. "The valuations model at the heart of this case estimates that leaseholders are currently being overcharged by £480m a year," he says. Yet the alternative model Wyatt proposed has now been "consigned to history", says the Sloane Stanley Estate.

The cost of extending a lease

As it stands, about 2.1 million properties in England and Wales have leases of less than 80 years. Extending a lease adds value to a property, and the landlord is entitled to half of this increase when a lease of below 80 years is extended. This is called the "marriage value" and makes extending a lease that has less than 80 years left to run much more expensive for the leaseholder.

Leaseholders are legally entitled to extend their lease after owning their property for two years, which should see their ground rent reduced to zero and the lease extended by 90 years. But extending a lease can be a long and expensive process, with the leaseholder paying the extension premium plus the legal and surveying costs for both sides. Leaseholders can also negotiate an "informal" extension with their freeholder, but this is very risky as some freeholders will only grant an extension back up to 99 or 125 years, or add in ground rent increases.

The Court of Appeal's decision comes just weeks after the government vowed to tackle unfair practices in the leasehold market. It has asked the Law Commission to look at valuation methodology as part of its upcoming review of the sector, as well as other changes to make lease extensions and enfranchisement (when the leaseholder buys the freehold) cheaper and quicker.

Emma Lunn

Emma Lunn is a multi-award-winning journalist who specialises in personal finance and consumer issues. With more than 18 years’ experience in personal finance, Emma has covered topics including mortgages, first-time buyers, leasehold, banking, debt, budgeting, broadband, energy, pensions and investments. Emma’s one of the most prolific freelance personal finance journalists with a back catalogue of work in newspapers such as The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, the Mail on Sunday and the Mirror. As a freelancer she has also completed various in-house contracts at The Guardian, The Independent, Mortgage Solutions, Orange and Moneywise. 

She also writes regularly for specialist magazines and websites such as Property Hub, Mortgage Strategy and She’s particularly proud of her work writing about the leasehold sector and a Guardian front-page story about a dodgy landlord. She has a real passion for helping people learn about money – especially when many people are struggling to get by in today’s challenging economic climate – and prides herself on simplifying complex subjects.