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What you can do if your Freeholder goes missing

Finding your freeholder is important as he is likely to be responsible for fulfilling duties under the terms of the lease, such as insuring the building, repairs and sorting out disputes between other leaseholders.

Finding your freeholder is important as he is likely to be responsible for fulfilling duties under the terms of the lease, such as insuring the building, repairs and sorting out disputes between other leaseholders.

Depending on your contract, you may also need to get his permission if you want to make significant alterations to your home.

It may be tricky to get a mortgage on a property when the freeholder is missing, according to the National Landlords Association, as providers are not keen on lending in this situation. Lenders would view the property as less marketable because the terms of the lease would be difficult to enforce without the freeholder.

This could cause problems for leaseholders who wanted to sell.

Another important reason to know how to contact your freeholder is if your leasehold falls under 80 years and you need to extend it, or if you wish to buy the freehold.

Another important reason to know how to contact your freeholder is if your leasehold falls under 80 years and you need to extend it, or if you wish to buy the freehold.

Unfortunately there is no specific service to track down missing freeholders or landlords, which means you will have to start at square one and begin the search yourself.

You can start by checking the last address for the freeholder listed on the Land Registry, or, if the property is owned by a company, you can try Companies House.

Anthony Essien, chief executive of the Leasehold Advisory Service, suggested advertising in the local press or instructing a private investigator.

Mark Chick, a partner at Bishop & Sewell, the law firm, and specialist in landlord and tenant matters, said it was also worth checking with any management firms that may have been involved with the building in the past, or solicitors who dealt with previous property transactions in the building, to find out if they can put you in touch.

Mr Chick said leaseholders could buy a missing landlord indemnity policy, which usually costs a few hundred pounds.

This offers protection if the landlord suddenly shows up and tries to claim for ground rent backpayments or for alternations you've made without permission. 

Mr Essien said leaseholders faced with an absent freeholder, in cases where the methods mentioned above proved unsuccessful, could seek to remedy their position by buying the freehold.

They would need to obtain a "vesting order" from the County Court under the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. 

Mr Essien said leaseholders could effectively buy the freehold and pay the court, which would hold on to the money. Then, if the freeholder "resurfaces", he can claim it.

How much the court process will cost depends on a number of factors, but Mr Chick said leaseholders could expect to pay between £2,000 and £5,000, plus VAT.

It may be that the leaseholders do not want to buy the freeholder and only wish to ensure that management functions are being met.

In that case, Mr Essien said they could opt for the Right to Manage under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002. This would not involve paying for the freehold.

Leaseholders would need to pay the £100 application fee to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber), which deals with property disputes, plus other professional fees run up during the process.

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