The Duchy's estate includes over 600 residences and virtually all are let to tenants. These houses often form part of rural and urban estates and although the Duchy does from time to time sell the freeholds of houses, in many instances the Duchy endeavours to keep the structure of the estates intact, indeed many of these dwellings are on land that has been owned by the Duchy estate since its creation in 1337. As a result, the estate has many links with tenants and communities that span generations.
Over decades, the way in which residential tenancies are managed has evolved and in some instances this has been impacted upon by legislative change. Today tenants have increased rights. In a limited number of cases, statutes provide for tenants to be able to extend their lease at the end of the 'fixed term' and possibly even purchase the freehold of the house in certain situations. Around 20% of the Duchy's housing stock is potentially affected in this way.
The laws governing these situations are complex and tenants are advised to take appropriate legal advice. The Duchy's District Offices will be happy to provide guidance on the circumstances where an extension to a residential lease or the purchase of the freehold may be possible.
In most cases, the relevant statutory framework is provided by the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, albeit the legislation has been amended on a number of occasions. Although the legislation does not apply to the Duchy, it does, with a few exceptions noted below, act by analogy with the legislation, as if it applied. In essence, this provides that a tenant of a house with a lease of fixed term of more than 21 years can apply to the Duchy in order to request a statutory extension to the lease. There is a statutory form that needs to be completed and this is submitted to the relevant Duchy District Office who will pass the application to the Duchy Solicitor for consideration. The Solicitor will apply the tests set out in the relevant legislation to determine if indeed the lease is one which qualifies for an extension. The legislation provides that the cost of making the application is borne by the lessee.
In addition to the right to extend leases, some lessees of houses with more than 21 years also have the right to apply to acquire the freehold of the premises, a process known as enfranchisement. Please note that this is in a very small number of cases and most types of tenancies are not eligible. The process for determining whether or not the lease qualifies for enfranchisement is the same as for a lease extension but the qualifying rules laid out in the statutes are a little different.
The Duchy does not accept applications to enfranchise in certain specific geographic locations and these are recorded in a Ministerial Undertaking as the off-islands and the Garrison area of the Isles of Scilly, parts of central Dartmoor and in the village of Newton St Loe, near Bath. In the wider Duchy estates, for example Kennington, properties are subjected to enfranchisement tests.
In those areas where houses cannot be enfranchised, in addition to a standard lease extension of 50 years, where the property would otherwise qualify to be enfranchised, the Duchy will offer a further 50 year lease extension. This means that where a lease satisfies the statutory tests, lessees can secure extensions for up to 100 years and can remain in a property for a lifetime.