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A young couple from Cambridgeshire have had their house dreams turned into a nightmare by a huge small print catch in their contract.
Tasha and Nathan Stewart had managed to get themselves onto the property ladder in 2014 in the town of Soham, but have recently discovered that the builders of their dream home have included a clause that doubles their ground rent every decade, making it almost impossible for the pair to ever sell their house.
"We put our detached coach house on the market in October 2017 and the sale was agreed at £175,000 pretty quickly," said Nathan, a 27-year-old marketing manager.
"Everything was going smoothly and we were ready to exchange contracts, but the buyer's solicitor asked for a sales pack from the ground rent company and uncovered the clause."
"The solicitor told us the majority of mortgage companies won't lend on it, so I quickly contacted Taylor Wimpey to ask them to do something, because otherwise I would lose the four-bed semi we were buying. They did nothing, the sale fell through and I lost about £2,500."
The ground rent was just £150 when the couple bought their property in 2014, but the clause makes it prohibitively expensive for anyone to buy it, as mortgage companies are reticent to lend to potential buyers with such a clause in the contract.
The £150 will become £300 in a decade and will continue to rise until it hits a cap of £4,800.
"Some people were quite unsympathetic and said we were idiots for not knowing, but our solicitor never told us about the ground rent," continued Nathan.
"I'm not a legal professional so I'm not familiar with this kind of thing. I trusted our solicitor to lead us right. He never made us aware of it. I want to make it clear that the people affected by this probably won't have any legal knowledge, so they rely on the word of their solicitor."
The building company, Taylor Wimpey, sold the freehold for the land to a company called Fairthatch GR Ltd as an investment.
"I got in touch with Fairthatch to ask them to help, but they won't change the leasehold terms - they own the land and can do whatever they want," says Nathan.
"Taylor Wimpey sold the freehold to them to make more money because they are greedy. Doing this should be illegal - it's completely unethical. I feel they don't care about how this affects people because they've got their money. They are sitting on a gold mine. I thought they would back down and help me but they haven't.
"Neither Tasha or I have any objection to paying ground rent, but what has left us and thousands of homeowners upset and angry is that the unethical doubling ground rent terms in the lease have meant selling our house is near impossible and that at no stage were we ever made aware such terms were in place or would cause such a scenario.
"Homeowners like us who are looking to build family homes are now left helpless, being exploited by greed, with no solution or end in site."
A spokeswoman for Taylor Wimpey said: "Last year Taylor Wimpey announced a voluntary scheme specifically aimed at addressing concerns raised by some of our direct customers regarding how easy it is to sell or get a mortgage on properties with a 10-year doubling ground rent clause.
"We have now reached agreements with freeholders to enable the significant majority of our customers with a 10-year doubling lease to convert their ground rent terms to an RPI-based structure, should the customer wish to do so.
"These agreements address concerns about the saleability and mortgageability of these properties - by making the ground rents much more affordable.
"Similar to all major housebuilders, on developments where homes are sold on a leasehold basis, Taylor Wimpey has always sold its underlying freehold interests. This is because the administrative structures needed to manage a portfolio of freehold interests are very different to a housebuilder's core business."
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