Hallway / flat boundary question

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    Hallway / flat boundary question

    Hi Everyone,

    I was hoping you knowledgeable people might be able to give my neighbour and I some guidance on a problem regarding a dispute of our flat boundary. If this is the wrong sub forum please let me know where to post.

    I am a flat lease holder in 4 story block of flats in which my wife and I lived for the past 13 years. On each floor off the main staircase runs a corridor left and right. On all of the other floors there are flats on both the left and right side of each corridor and these are obviously communal as they are required to access multiple other flats. The floor we are on is different. I am the only flat off my side of the corridor and my neighbour is the only flat of her side of the corridor.

    Approximately 20 years ago, maybe even more, it would appear the previous owners of our and our neighbours flat used the door leading onto the main stair case as boundary door to their properties. This makes total sense as none of the other flats use our corridors for access and it also makes our flats more secure as we have a second front door, there have been break-ins in the past. This arrangement has been that way long before I purchased our flat and neither the freehold owner or the management company has every passed comment… until recently.

    A new building manager has recently started at the management company and while walking round the block with our residents’ representative was apparently not very pleased he could not immediately access our or our neighbours corridor. He has since contacted me to say that corridor is a communal area which must be left with access at all times in case they want to check the smoke alarm or maintain the light outside our inner front door. I have said to him that access can easily be arranged and supplied him with my contact details to he can arrange it directly with me, should be wish to see the smoke alarm or the light. I need to find my paperwork to confirm the boundary of the flat however he is telling me this corridor behind our outer front door is communal.

    This has come totally out of the blue. I’m also concerned that if we take the locks of our corridor doors then it makes us an easy target for break-ins as a burglar just needs to close the outer door for an uninterested private opportunity to break our inner front doors. This corridor always has been part of our homes for as any of the longest standing residents can remember. Shortly after we moved in we fitted a double-glazing window, curtains, shelves etc. I suspect this new chap is perhaps concerned from a liability point of view, given his company maintain the central fire alarm. I want to work with the management company to try and mitigate whatever risk it is they see with not having unfettered access to our corridor, although access can be arranged. I also want to understand if we have any rights to that space, given our flats have had vacant possession to that area for the last approximately 20 or more years. This corridor is part of our homes, my neighbour and I want to try and navigate a solution that allows us to retain our continued private use this space, also hopefully without parting with ££££.

    This is a really odd problem; does anyone have any suggestions on where to start?



    #2
    Read your lease, but the building manager is probably correct.

    Have you offered to give them a key? If there are no complaints from the other leaseholders, who presumably have the right to use all the common areas and pay jointly for the upkeep and there are no implications for fire safety, maybe that will satisfy the building manager?

    Comment


      #3
      You have leased your flat, and can have exclusive use of that which is inside your flat from the front door inwards.

      The corridor will not be leased by you. It will be a common area, owned by the landlord, and not yours to steal, or have exclusive access to.

      Keys to the door are not not required as someone, without permission, commandeered an area that is not theirs to commandeer.

      The landlord, via the agent is within their right to tell you to remove the offending door, and put right the decoration, and you should be getting that letter shortly.


      Comment


        #4
        Thank you both for taking the time to reply.

        The landlord is aware of the change that was made all those years ago and has never raised it as an issue. It is the new member of staff at the management company (the managing agent) that has raised this point.

        I myself have been paying for the upkeep of that area, maintaining the light etc myself when the bulbs blow, upgrading the window to double glazing. They did install a smoke alarm sensor in a few years back but that is all.

        One of the things I'm really looking to understand is do we have any rights to use that area seeing as it has been part of our flat for approximately 20 years? I believe the laws regarding that may have changed a couple of years ago.

        I have not offered they agent a key yet as there are expensive / personal items stored in that area and I would worry the key would be passed around. I think that would have to be a last resort option but it is certainly a good suggestion.

        If our hallway truly is a common area then how feasible would be to change the boundary to make it a non common area? I doubt any of the other lease holders would be bothered and I suspect the managing agent wants to mitigate their risk of having to manage that area, hence it being raised in the 1st place. Does anyone know what we would need to do in order to change who is responsible for maintaining that area? Could it be a written agreement or would it have to be a land registry / lease change?


        Comment


          #5
          You've created a mess. If they knew that you had made the change and still collected money from they have lost their right to forfeit your lease, making correcting this more difficult. However, as the alternation is outside your demise, it is maybe a simple trespass, rather than breach of covenant, so slightly easier to handle. I don't know if adverse possession works for leasehold demises, but you need to meet more conditions than just 12 years unchallenged use for registered land, anyway.

          I'm concerned that this was not picked up in the fire risk assessment, as this is part of the fire safety design of the building. In particular, the outer door is very definitely under control of building landlord, and best modern practice is that the inner door should be, as well, as the landlord needs to ensure that these are maintained as self closing fire doors at all times.

          I'm also concerned about the communal fire alarm head. Even having one there at all indicates that either building has fire safety defects in its construction and needs an alarm system to compensate (this should only normally happen in conversions), or that the person doing the fire risk didn't understand their job (which is fairly clear if they did not enforce for the breach of the lease).

          Generally, if there are communal fire alarms you have a simultaneous evacuation policy, and there should be notices to that effect (there should be notices of the policy either way). Simultaneous evacuation is not preferred, in small blocks of flats, because it in impracticable to have fire wardens, and because evacuating a relatively safe flat into a smoke filled stairwell puts people at unnecessary risk.

          Where communal fire detectors are needed, to operate an alarm, the normal practice is to use a heat detector in individual demises, to avoid false communal alarms from the burnt toast. (Smoke detectors can also be used to, silently, operate smoke extraction systems.)

          Storing items in the area also breaches the fire safety design. It is a protected lobby and should have an extremely low fire risk.

          Comment


            #6
            I would say that you have possibly occupied without the owners permission, ie. been 'squatting', in this hallway for 20 years, and so may be able to make a claim for Adverse possession.

            https://www.gov.uk/squatting-law/squ...ts-to-property

            The possible objection there is that you say the LL knew about this, so did he give implied permission for the occupation?
            And how would the request for it to be returned to common use be seen?

            Plus there's a question of whether a communal hallway is 'residential property' or not. It's illegal to squat in residential property.

            And of course the safety points that leasholder64 raises.

            Time to get a conveyancer or solicitor to advise you.

            Comment


              #7
              Even if you do get adverse possession, you will still need to remove your possessions, as you have a legal duty to cooperate with the responsible person for the building with regard to fire safety.

              Comment


                #8
                Adverse possession does not apply to property to which you already have right of access. So no to that.

                So no. It is not part of you flat(s) -- you have to give it back unless there is some agreed (100% of all lessees) lease variation and probably compensation to other lessees, and possibly adjustments to service charge proportions.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by chard101 View Post
                  "seeing as it has been part of our flat for approximately 20 years"
                  It has not been part of your flat for 20 years. It was commandeered / stolen / refusing access to the landlords common area.
                  In fact, you are still refusing access to the Landlords common area.

                  Originally posted by chard101 View Post
                  The landlord is aware of the change that was made all those years ago and has never raised it as an issue.
                  Maybe, but fire alarms / smoke detectors were not an issue then, and probably not installed then.
                  Originally posted by chard101 View Post
                  Does anyone know what we would need to do in order to change who is responsible for maintaining that area?
                  Yes, you ask the landlord if you can lease that part, and the reply will be NO.

                  If in the unlikely event they say yes, then a Deed of variation will be written, for which you will have to pay for, and pay their solicitors costs, together with costs for a new floor plan showing the extended area of demise
                  And give money to freeholder for wanting to lease that corridor. In the same way you gave money to buy the lease for the flat, you give money to lease the corridor.

                  But, you cannot lease the corridor.
                  If you could, you then have to change not only your lease, but the other flats lease to allow them to pass and re-pass across your newly acquired demised area.( More costs )
                  You cannot have 2 flats leasing the same corridor.

                  You have stolen / commandeered an area you are not allowed to, therefore expect the door to have to come down.

                  SIMPLES.


                  Comment


                    #10
                    Originally posted by ram View Post
                    You have stolen / commandeered an area you are not allowed to, therefore expect the door to have to come down.
                    There is no door to come down. As I read it, there always was a door there, the fire door between the protected stairwell and the protected lobby, the protected lobby being the subject of the current trespass.

                    Although, at one time, flats were allowed to open directly onto stairwells, there is now a requirement that there be a protected corridor or protected lobby, between the entrance and the stairwell. I assume these are purpose built flats, built to recent building regulations (in which case the fire alarm is worrying, as such blocks should not have communal fire alarms, as they are designed for stay put, and the alarms attract people from the safe flat to an already compromised stairwell).

                    The modification was probably also a breach of building regulations, but the time limit for prosecutions is only six months. I hope the inner door wasn't converted to uPVC, as that needs to be a fire door, and any recent replacement needs to be an FD30S fire door.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by leaseholder64 View Post
                      There is no door to come down. As I read it, there always was a door there.
                      My mistake.
                      But it still stands that the corridor is still communal, and door must be unlocked.

                      Common area fire alarms must be placed in communal areas, including unused but common access basements, at strategic points that the residents can hear the alarm through to their flat.

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Thanks for your replies everyone, they have been really helpful. My neighbour and I have inherited this situation and as such are trying to plan the best (informed) way forward. I'm guessing this change to the door / corridor was made sometime in the 90s, long before we purchased our leasehold flats.

                        To clarify, the neighbour and I each have a separate corridor leading leading to our own individual flats. This corridor is not used by anyone else for access. There is a fire door at the end of the corridor that leads onto the stairwell, I believe this fire door has always been there.

                        I believe the flat conversions were carried out in the early 80s so they should adhere to the build regulations of that time. There is a centralised very loud fire alarm for each block that everyone can hear it, the whole block evacuates at the same time. There is a fire alarm sounder / smoke detector in the corridor behind the door, I granted temporary access for it to be installed several years ago. I believe our inner door is also a fire door, I have not changed this at all.

                        I have always granted temporary access when I've been asked by the managing agent or their contractors.

                        The advice has been greatly appreciated.

                        Thanks.

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Originally posted by chard101 View Post

                          I myself have been paying for the upkeep of that area, maintaining the light etc myself when the bulbs blow, upgrading the window to double glazing. They did install a smoke alarm sensor in a few years back but that is all.



                          So you change the bulb. But who pays for the electricity to this light fitting? If it's the communal hallway supply, then obviously this area is communal!

                          No freeholder is going to give up any part of his property for nothing...

                          ​​​​​​

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