In September 2020, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched enforcement action against four housing developers. These included Countryside Properties and Taylor Wimpey, for using possibly unfair contract terms, and Barratt Developments and Persimmon Homes over the possible mis-selling of leasehold homes.
In a statement, the CMA said: "The CMA has now written to Countryside and Taylor Wimpey outlining its specific concerns that their use of terms that double the ground rent every 10 or 15 years breaks consumer protection law.
"As this increase is built into contracts, it means people can struggle to sell or mortgage their homes, and so find themselves trapped. These terms can also affect their property rights.
"To address the concerns, the CMA is requiring the removal of ground rent terms which it thinks are unfair from all existing Countryside and Taylor Wimpey contracts to make sure they are no longer in breach of the law. The companies must also agree not to use the terms again in any future leasehold contracts."
Andrea Coscelli, CMA Chief Executive, said: "These ground rent terms can make it impossible for people to sell or get a mortgage on their homes, meaning they find themselves trapped. This is unacceptable. Countryside and Taylor Wimpey must entirely remove all these terms from existing contracts to make sure that they are on the right side of the law.
"If these developers do not address our concerns, we will take further action, including through the courts, if necessary."
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: "The Government asked the CMA to conduct this investigation. I strongly welcome their efforts to bring justice to homeowners affected by unfair practices, such as crippling ground rents, which have no place in our housing market. This behaviour must end and I look forward to appropriate redress being forthcoming for leaseholders.
"The Government is pursuing the most significant reforms to leasehold in forty years, including by protecting future homeowners, restricting ground rents in new leases to zero and ending the use of leasehold in new houses altogether."
Countryside and Taylor Wimpey now have the opportunity to respond to the CMA’s detailed concerns and avoid court action by signing formal commitments – known as ‘undertakings’ – to remove the ground rent terms from their leasehold contracts.
The CMA statement added: "As part of its review of the leasehold sector, the CMA will also continue to investigate certain firms – such as investment companies – which bought freeholds from these developers and have continued to use the same leasehold contract terms. Its investigation into Barratt Developments and Persimmon Homes is also ongoing.
"For people who own, or are looking to buy, a leasehold property, the CMA has produced written and video guidance, which offers advice on a number of issues, including what people can do when faced with fees and charges they consider unjustified."
In a statement, Taylor Wimpey said: " As we noted in our FY2020 Results Announcement on 2 March, the CMA's investigation into leasehold remains open and we have now received a letter from the CMA setting out its concerns and confirming that it intends to move to the next stage of formal consultation.
"We will continue to cooperate with the CMA and work with them to find a satisfactory resolution, within the required timescale."
Countryside said in a statement: “Countryside has sold no properties with doubling ground rent clauses since 2017 and we introduced the Ground Rent Assistance Scheme in 2020 to assist leaseholders whose ground rents doubled more frequently than every 20 years.
“We will continue to engage constructively with the CMA to resolve this complex issue. Alongside these discussions, its resolution will require the engagement of a number of other parties, including certain freehold owners, for a satisfactory solution to be found.”