Leaseholds on new build homes to be banned in England
Builders are to be banned by the government from selling houses as leasehold in England and ground rents on flats could be cut to zero following widespread outrage over exploitative contracts.
In a blow for major housebuilders such as Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon, the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, will on Tuesday set out plans to “ban new-build houses being sold as leasehold as well as restricting ground rents to as low as zero”.
Flats can be continued to be sold as leasehold, but ground rents will be restricted to a “peppercorn” level and therefore be of little financial value to speculative buyers. The ban is expected to come into force after an eight-week consultation period.
“Under government plans, [ground rents] could be reduced so that they relate to real costs incurred, and are fair and transparent to the consumer,” said the DCLG.
Tens of thousands of homebuyers have been caught in spiralling ground rents, which have in some cases left homes virtually unsaleable. Javid cited one family home that is now unsaleable because the ground rent is expected to hit £10,000 a year by 2060.
A Guardian Money campaign has over the past nine months highlighted reports of buyers trapped in properties valued at zero just six years after being built, £2,500 fees demanded by freeholders for permission to build an extension, and quotes of £35,000 to buy freeholds on detached houses only just a few years old.
Javid said: “It’s clear that far too many new houses are being built and sold as leaseholds, exploiting home buyers with unfair agreements and spiralling ground rents.
“Enough is enough. These practices are unjust, unnecessary and need to stop. Our proposed changes will help make sure leasehold works in the best interests of homebuyers now and in the future.”
Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ground rent had been used by some housebuilders “as an unjustifiable way to print money”.
He said building firms should do more to compensate those affected by such problems: “If they are responsible, if they want to keep their business in the future, if they want to show that they really care about their customers, they should be seeing what they should do to right some of the wrongs of the past.”
However, Javid said there were not as yet any definite government plans to compel builders to take action to assist those already affected.
“It’s an eight-week period of consultation to look at what action can be taken,” he said.
“I don’t profess that I’ve got all the answers on this. I’ve identified a problem, we’ve come up with some potential solutions. We don’t pretend they’re easy, there are are complex matters here.”
New legislation will close legal loopholes to protect buyers, some of whom have faced repossession orders after failing to keep up with the ground rent. The government will also change the rules on help-to-buy equity loans so that the scheme “can only be used to support new build houses on acceptable terms”.
Sebastian O’Kelly, whose Leasehold Knowledge Partnership has been the sharpest critic of abusive practices, welcomed the ban. He said: “Leasehold houses are an absolute racket: a means by which developers have managed to turn ordinary people’s homes into long-term investment vehicles for shadowy investors, often based offshore. In short, plc housebuilders have been systematically cheating their own customers.”
The practice of selling houses as leasehold has been particularly prominent in the north-west of England.
DCLG statistics estimate there were 4m residential leasehold dwellings in England in the private sector in 2014-15 and of these 1.2m were leasehold houses.
Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, who has many constituents suffering from leasehold problems, said: “What has occurred in this sector should be regarded as a national scandal. Therefore, once we have taken action to drive out these rotten practices, the ultimate aim must be to hold to account the men and women who must have known that creating this second lucrative income stream for developers would ultimately be at the cost of their customers.”
Jo Darbyshire, whose Taylor Wimpey-built house has a clause where the ground rent doubles every 10 years and is part of the National Leasehold Campaign group on Facebook, said the ban was “fabulous news”.
“It’s great that others won’t be stuck in the nightmare we have been in,” she said. “But what are they really going to do for people in our position? There now needs to be a national review, like the review of endowment misselling, to review every case and put people back into the position they would have been without these onerous clauses.”
Earlier this year, Taylor Wimpey agreed a £130m deal to help distressed leasehold buyers. At the time, it said that the contracts where ground rents double every 10 years were legal but “not consistent with our high standards of customer service and we are sorry for the unintended financial consequence and concern that they are causing”.
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