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Question: I recently bought a buy-to-let flat. The block’s freehold is owned by the leaseholders. The lease states that I cannot let the flat without the consent of the landlord company. I don’t get on with the secretary of the leaseholders’ association, who lives in the flat next door and who fears that I will let it to students or young couples. She says the company will never allow me to sublet. What can I do?

This stipulation is very common in residential leases. However, the landlord does not have the right to object on any old grounds. Section 19(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927 states that this kind of clause must always be read subject to a qualification that consent cannot be unreasonably withheld.

The Landlord and Tenant Act 1988 introduced machinery for dealing with these problems. A landlord who receives a written application for permission to sublet must now reply formally, giving his decision within a reasonable time. If he refuses permission, he must give reasons. If consent is made subject to conditions, these conditions must also be reasonable, if the landlord doesn’t reply or withholds permission on reasonable grounds, the tenant can sue the landlord for damages.

What might be reasonable ground for withholding permission will vary from case to case. However the landlord will not usually be able to refuse consent simply because someone is too young or that they “just don’t fit in”. In the case of subletting, the landlord will generally not be able to insist on references for the subtenants. It will certainly not be reasonable to have a blanket policy against subletting in every case.

You need to write to the landlord formally asking for permission and identifying the potential tenants. State clearly that this is a written application for consent under section 3 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1988. If the landlord does not reply within, say, 14 days, or refuses permission on unreasonable grounds, you can sue the landlord in the county court and recover damages for lost rental and any other losses.

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