Clause 2 - Excepted leases

Part of Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 7 Rhagfyr 2021.

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Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 9:25, 7 Rhagfyr 2021

You are very kind, Mr Hollobone. Clause 2 will be of significant interest as it sets out those leases not regulated by the Bill. We have taken care to tightly define these, as we are aware that any loopholes might lead to abuse of the system and a monetary ground rent being charged where we had not intended it. I will consider each of the exceptions in turn.

First, subsections (1) to (3) detail how business leases will be excepted. It is important that a commercial lease that contains a dwelling, such as for a shop or other business, can continue to operate as now, and that landlords of such buildings are not disadvantaged. Businesses are also likely to prefer to pay some form of rent rather than a premium for the use of the property. However, we also need to protect residential leaseholders from any argument by a landlord that a ground rent is payable because of the possibility of a business use. For that reason, subsection (1)(a) states that the lease must expressly permit the premises under the lease to be used for business purposes without further consent from the landlord.

In our response to the technical consultation on ground rent, published in June 2019, we committed that mixed-use leases would not be subject to a peppercorn rent. The example given was a flat above a shop, where these are both on the same lease. In such instances, it would be important that a commercial rent can continue to be paid, to reflect the business use of part of the building. However, we wish to ensure that the Bill does not result in a plethora of mixed-use leases that are to all intents dwellings but where the tenant pays a monetary ground rent. For this reason, subsection (1)(b) requires that, for such leases, the use of the premises as a dwelling must significantly contribute to the business purposes.

The Bill also includes provision to make sure that both parties intend and are aware of this business-use component of the lease. Subsection (1)(c) achieves this by requiring that the landlord and tenant exchange written notices at or before the lease is granted confirming the intention to use and continue to use the premises for the business purposes set out in the lease. The form of this notice will be prescribed in forthcoming regulations. Subsection (3) defines business as including a trade, profession or employment, but not a home business as under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954.

Statutory lease extensions for flats are already required to be at a peppercorn rent, so we have excepted them from the requirements of the Bill in order to avoid duplication. We will come to so-called voluntary lease extensions for flats when we consider clause 6. Statutory lease extensions for houses are required by legislation to be for 50 years for payment of no premium, but for a modern ground rent, which is typically higher than a peppercorn. Were the Bill to require that rent to be only a peppercorn, we would deprive the landlord of income for the granting of the lease extension. For that reason, those extensions are exempted from the Bill. However, we intend to return to the wider question of enfranchisement in future legislation. Our changes to the enfranchisement valuation process, including abolishing marriage value and prescribing rates, will result in substantial savings for some leaseholders, particularly those with less than 80 years left on their lease. The length of a statutory lease extension will increase to 990 years, from 90 years for flats and 50 years for houses.

I will turn now to community housing leases and other specialist products that we do not want to compromise. Community housing schemes promote the supply of new housing to meet local need where residents contribute towards the cost of shared community services. The use of ground rent in those cases is very different from ground rent for long residential leases where no clear service is provided in return. As we have done throughout clause 2, we have taken care to tightly define community housing leases to ensure that that exception applies only where intended. It covers long leases where the landlord is a community land trust, or the lease is a dwelling in a building that is controlled or managed by a co-operative society. We expect that to cover all deserving dwellings. We have also made provision, should it be needed, to add further conditions to those definitions in order to close a loophole should one be identified in future.

The clause also exempts certain financial products in cases where a form of rent is needed for the product to operate as intended. Subsection (9) defines them as regulated home reversion plans and homes bought using a rent to buy arrangement. It is important that those specialist financial products can continue, maximising choice for homeowners over how they finance their property purchase.