Complicated leases are preventing improvements being made to England’s coldest homes, says a new report co-authored by Professor Susan Bright from the Faculty of Law at Oxford University.

The Future-proofing Flats report identifies that one particular category of flats, older houses that have been converted into private flats, as the least energy efficient with the highest levels of damp. According to the report, leases urgently need to be standardised with energy efficiency made more of a priority.

The report explains that agreement for improvement work often needs the involvement of many parties, such as landlords, leaseholders, short-term tenants, mortgagees and management companies. There is no such thing as the 'standard' flat lease, and leases are highly individualised, with leases even in the same block sometimes varying. Often there is confusion over whether any party has the right and responsibility to provide the upgrade, says the report. It notes that leaseholders are usually prohibited from making structural alterations although certain non-structural alternations may be made with the landlord’s consent and the landlord must not unreasonably withhold consent.

Susan Bright, Professor of Land Law and McGregor Fellow, said: 'We simply don’t have the legal mechanisms for private flats to benefit from retrofitted energy efficiency improvements. They may be stuck with poor insulation, single-glazed windows and inefficient or expensive heating. As a result, from the day they are built, private blocks of flats start to fall behind the rest of the housing stock in energy terms. This is a problem we’re going to have to address if we’re going to hit our 2050 target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions, much of which has to come from changes to the way we use energy in homes.'

The report suggests changes in the law allowing lease renewals and renegotiations to become potential opportunities for energy efficiency upgrades. It says solicitors need to be more aware of the issues; freeholders who own the block should be required by law to undertake an energy efficiency survey, and proceed with works that are reasonable and cost-effective. New legislation could allow the 'retrospective insertion' of clauses in leases to allow energy efficiency work to proceed. Also, that secondary legislation needs to allow leaseholders to apply for lease variations in cases where reasonable energy efficiency measures have to be carried out.

The report was co-authored with the not-for-profit organisation Future Climate and the City of Westminster Council, with the support of TLT Solicitors.