Photo: Tom Gilling

A Guide to the Lease

The lease each leaseholder is party to is intended to govern the good order of the building and its maintenance, and to encourage good neighbourliness. Its clauses aim to avoid disputes by seeking to deal with possible issues that may arise.

When it became landlord in 1990, the Association inherited the previous commercial landlord's lease. The Association has meanwhile replaced it with a new lease better tailored to the circumstances at Helena Court today.

The lease is a crucial document because it regulates the essentials of living at Helena Court. Every leaseholder needs to understand its importance, since it is binding and lays down rights and responsibilities, notably on the following aspects:

1. Liability: Basically whatever is inside the flat, including the windows, is the resident's responsibility. This extends to insuring the contents and against damage arising in or from the flat. What is outside the flat, including the painting and routine repair of windows but not the window frames themselves, is a HCRA responsibility, which includes insuring the building's fabric.

2. Paying service charges: The lease requires that we pay service charges on time and in full. These go to the property's maintenance including its management and improvements necessary to maintain a good quality of life at Helena Court. The AGM reviews budgets and determines the general policy on service charges. The Board decides with the managing agent how the money should be spent and sets the service charges within the AGM's guidelines. Routine works that arise over each year are covered by the main service charge, while a reserve fund element serves to cover major, less frequent works and significant improvements. The managing agent is required to recover any service charges arrears promptly. Late payment is unfair to those who pay on time, can stall works, and ultimately jeopardizes the state of the building and gardens.

3. Use of the Flat: The Flats are to be used as places to live, not factories, labs or business facilities.

4. Quiet Enjoyment: The building is solid enough. However, sound travels up and down through the floors and some walls (especially ones with hidden chimneys) and so can cause nuisance. Everybody is hence expected to be considerate and not to annoy, disturb or inconvenience anyone. The lease gives each leaseholder the right to "peaceably hold and enjoy" their flat, and makes clear that it is necessary at all times to be sensitive to the noise issue. For this reason, playing musical instruments is essentially forbidden (a piano can be heard throughout the building), as is of course playing televisions and audio equipment loudly, shouting and holding loud parties. Even washing machines and dishwashers can cause disturbance at late hours, and thus the lease calls generally for hush between the hours of 11pm and 8am.

5. Making changes: We can paint, decorate and improve our flats and are encouraged to do so. But the garden, hallways and outside of the building are "common ways" or areas and are therefore matters for the Association through the Board of Directors. Ideas for improvements (including by voluntary work) must be brought up at an AGM or with Directors.

6. Rubbish: Communal bin facilities are provided but they are only intended for normal household waste, not dumping. Large items (old furniture, fridges, beds, mattressing) must be disposed of privately, not left in the garden or in any external areas.

7. Aerials, washing lines etc: The lease says that we can't bolt a satellite dish on the wall or put up a washing line in the garden. The building is equipped with terrestrial aerial facilities. A communal satellite dish was at one time mooted as an improvement but cable/internet provision ultimately seemed to offer a sufficient solution.

8. Pets: The lease forbids any pet that might be a nuisance to any resident, so these are not encouraged, particularly dogs. In the past dogs barked for hours causing nuisance to residents; there were also complaints of dogs fouling the gardens.

9. Advertising and improper use of Flats: The lease says that we can't put up posters etc. in windows. Nor can flats be used 'for any purpose of an illegal immoral improper unpleasant noisy or noxious nature'.

10. Subletting: This is considered a business, whereas Helena Court is a place for people to live in quiet enjoyment of their homes. A leaseholder engaging in subletting will be held to a high standard of responsibility. This includes ensuring that the tenant knows and has signed up to the estate regulations in force. The leaseholder is liable for any failing on the tenant's part, such as where the tenant does not abide by an estate regulation or is not covered by adequate flat insurance. The lease imposes a clear procedure for subletting. Please be sure to consult the lease and the managing agent if you intend to sublet.

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We hope these notes will be helpful and provide peace of mind to newcomers to our quite special building. Let any director or the managing agent know of questions you have.