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What Is an ‘Elevation’ in Property Terms? – Upper Tribunal Gives the Answer

Architects, surveyors and other property professionals often refer to the ‘elevations’ of buildings – but what exactly does the word mean? In a guideline ruling, the Upper Tribunal (UT) has resolved that question in the context of a landlord and tenant dispute.

The case concerned a flat that was held under a 99-year lease which incorporated a covenant that forbade tenants from making any alteration to the elevation or external decoration of the property. After discovering that a window to the rear of the property had been replaced by a door, giving access to a flat roof, the landlord launched proceedings against the tenants, alleging that the covenant had been breached.

In ruling on the matter, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) noted that the definition of the word ‘elevation’ had not been analysed since the Edwardian era. In following a legal precedent that was over 100 years old, however, it found that the word referred only to the front façade of the flat. There had therefore been no breach.

In upholding the landlord’s challenge to that ruling, however, the UT found that the FTT had placed too much reliance on the antique precedent. Elevation has different meanings in different contexts and is often qualified by the addition of ‘front’, ‘rear’ or ‘side’. The UT found that the word simply denotes the external vertical surfaces of a building generally, rather than referring to the front of the building only.

In the circumstances, the UT granted the landlord a declaration under Section 168(4) of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 that the installation of the door amounted to an alteration in the flat’s rear elevation and thus breached the covenant. No other relief was sought.