The government is setting up a commission to consider how to reform and introduce commonhold – the English equivalent of ‘strata title’ or ‘condominium’) – on a wider scale.
While it is easy to focus on the threats that any change could bring, it is important to consider whether bringing commonhold into wider use could help turn schemes into communities, with mixes of tenants enjoying shared space. There are niche and straightforward applications for this way of arranging properties, which are already standard in the rest of the world.
Courtyard living: commonhold could be used to arrange low-rise houses and apartments around a shared, private open space. You can only vary leases with the consent of all parties, but commonhold arrangements can be changed by unanimous or majority decisions. For example, you could react to a lockdown with rules about when groups of occupiers could use the private space. It’s easier to do this with commonhold than to expect a distant management company to vary all the leases for a scheme and take an active interest in how the occupiers use space (as opposed to ensuring that rents are collected).
Co-housing and community land trusts: these are nascent affordable-housing models that rely on occupiers taking an active interest in the management and upkeep of their surroundings. Again, commonhold is designed so all owners co-operate on the same level rather than all complying with terms imposed by a landlord.
Business and industrial parks: not all of these need to operate entirely on a rental model with service charges for facilities that some occupiers won’t use. If you had a retail/leisure park that had to share a road and some fences (but nothing else) with industrial premises, you could set up a commonhold with two independent sections jointly owning the road, but which can be funded, sold and let separately.
For commonhold to work, government, industry and community groups therefore need to consider the adaptations needed to enable one new set of laws to work for diverse end-users.
Brian Dowling is a real estate partner at Irwin Mitchell