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Making energy efficiency improvements in blocks of flats

If you live in a flat there are a number of different people or companies who might need to be involved in any changes you want to make to your home. The following guidance is for owners, renters, freeholders and management committee members in blocks of flats who are thinking about energy efficiency improvements. 

Blocks of flats in England and Wales are owned by a freeholder who has overall responsibility for the building and communal areas, while individual private flats are owned by leaseholders. In many cases, blocks of flats are managed by a property management company or a residents' management committee on behalf of the freeholder.

The key principle

If you are thinking about energy improvements in a flat or across a block of flats, carefully read the lease for each flat concerned. Leases make up the local law for your block of flats and can vary between flats in the same building. Leases determine what parts of the building belong to individual flats and what to the freeholder, and what permission flat owners need to get from freeholders before they make different improvements. 

If you are thinking about making energy improvements to your flat, or your block of flats, what you can do varies depending on your status:

  • Social housing tenant

If you're a social housing tenant you can usually install energy efficient light bulbs (but check your tenancy agreement) and obviously upgrade any of your own home appliances, such as your television, to a more efficient model. If you want fixed improvements, such as insulation, windows, solar panels or a more efficient heating system, you will have to ask your social housing provider. Try and get other residents in your building on board and engage with the housing provider's sustainability and asset management teams.

  • Private tenant

If you're a private renter you can usually make changes to the light bulbs (but check your tenancy agreement) and obviously upgrade any of your own appliances to a more efficient model. Generally, if you want fixed improvements such as insulation, windows, solar panels or a more energy efficient heating system you will have to ask your landlord, and bear in mind they will usually then need to seek permission from the freeholder of the block. However, if you are willing to pay for energy efficiency improvements yourself, you do have some additional rights under the 2011 Energy Act - please see box below.

  • Flat owner

If you own a flat, either as an owner occupier or private landlord, your ability to make different improvements inside your flat will depend on the terms of your lease. You must check the terms: leases can vary even within the same building. The lease will determine what belongs to you, e.g. you might own the glass inside your windows but not the window frame, and determine whether, for example, you can make structural improvements inside your flat. Usually there is a need to seek your freeholder's consent for most improvements inside the flat and you may have to pay an administrative fee for the freeholder to give their consent.

If you are a private landlord who owns a flat you have additional rights to make energy efficiency improvements under the terms of the 2011 Energy Act - please see box below. 

  • Management committees, building management companies and freeholders

If you are involved in managing a block of flats on behalf of the freeholder (for example as a residents’ management committee) you are in a great position to make energy efficiency upgrades. You might think, for example, about changing windows or installing wall and loft insulation across the block of flats. You will need to review the leases for all the flats in the building. Unfortunately, leases can pose difficulties: if leases do not allow you to share the costs of improvements (often leases allow for the costs of building repairs and maintenance to be shared but not improvements), you will, at least, need the agreement of all the flat owners as to how you are going to allocate costs and you may need to reach agreement to revise lease terms. In either case you will need to consult a solicitor. 
 

The Tenants Energy Efficiency Improvement Regulations make it easier for owners and tenants of private rented flats to make energy efficiency improvements. Neither landlords or freeholders can unreasonably withhold consent to energy efficiency improvements inside flats where these are allowable under leases. If you are a tenant and are willing to pay for energy improvements such as more efficient storage heaters, your landlord may have to let you do so, and the freeholder similarly may have to agree to the works proceeding. However, tenants don't normally pay for home improvements in the UK, and a more normal situation is where the landlord of a private rented flat wants to make and pay for improvements: in these cases the Tenants Energy Efficiency Improvement Regulations can help the landlord in their negotiations with the freeholder.

 

This is a complicated area and you are strongly recommended to carefully consult the regulations and to seek legal advice. In strict legal terms a freeholder is a long term landlord, and a leaseholder is a long term tenant. In this guidance, for the avoidance of doubt, we use the term "landlord" to mean a person or organisation renting out a flat on a short term tenancy, and "tenant" to mean a short term tenant.

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