Your rights as a leaseholder

Thanks to everyone who came to our meeting on leaseholder rights. Here’s a summary of what was said

Present: 
34 residents (Approx 13% from Brixton Hill Ward, 40% from Optivo, 40% from Metropolitan, 20% from Notting Hill)
Nadeem Hussain from the Leasehold Advisory Service – contact via http://www.lease-advice.org,
Cllr Ben Kind – bkind@lambeth.gov.uk
Cllr Mary Atkins – matkins@lambeth.gov.uk

These minutes were not compiled by a lawyer.  They are not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please read them in conjunction with the minutes from our 2015 meeting and our 2016 meeting

Section 20
Whenever your landlord is planning works that cost more than £250/annum/household for works or £150/annum/household for services they must consult residents.  Section 20 notices are the legal method for them to do this

The landlord may have to apply to the council for planning permission first.  In Lambeth planning permission last for three years. Then they will serve a section 20 notice.  Full details here

If the landlord does not carry out the consultation at all or “messes it up badly” you can challenge their right to levy charges 

The landlord should charge no more than the going rate.  If you think the cost of the work in unreasonably high it is acceptable to get another professional to give a quote and use that to argue the cost is too high.

The work done by the landlord should be to a good standard.  If an independent professional says they are not that is grounds for a complaint.

In all cases you challenge the landlord in a first tier tribunal property chamber.   You have to pay a £100 application fee and a £200 hearing fee. If several people have the same problem it’s best if you all back the strongest case.  Then when that case wins you can all complain to your landlord citing that case.

Service Charges
A landlord should send out estimates for the service charges once a year.  Later they will reconcile the estimates costs with the actual costs.

If there has been a significant increase in a particular component of a service charge (e.g. Internal Cleaning) you should complain.  You should also complain if work is clearly not relevant (e.g. you’re being charged for a lift in a building without a lift). You should also complain if work is not being done.  An example of this is window cleaning. If you think the windows aren’t being cleaned stick parcel tape on a window the day the windows are supposed to be cleaned and take a date stamped picture.  If the parcel tape is still there that evening take another date stamped picture as proof the windows have not been cleaned.

Under section 22 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 you have the right to check the invoices (e.g. for internal cleaning).  For the landlords, failure to comply is a criminal offence. In practice this means that if the landlords don’t comply you have to lay down a complaint at the magistrates court.  The court can then fine the landlords, but can’t force them to show you the receipts.

In light of this is much better to embarrass the landlords by non legal means.  Put in a complaint if you don’t get the receipts and escalate it if they don’t respond.  This can mean taking the complaint to the Housing Ombudsman. A councillor can help with this.  The Housing Ombudsman’s ruling is public, and public rulings against a Housing Association will embarrass them.

Your lease should specify what services you can be charged for. It’s worth checking your lease to make sure your landlord has the legal right to charge you for all the services in your service charge.

Any Other Business
A resident complained that the stairwell in Abbots Park was poorly repainted after a fire and the paint was poorly maintained.  There’s two ways to resolve this problem

  • Put in a complaint and escalate to the housing ombudsman, with the help of a councillor, if it is not solved.  Housing Ombudsman ruling are public and will embarrass the housing association
  • Go to the county court and get a judgement to force the landlord to do the work.  There is a significant cost. Mary Atkins recommends Anthony Gold who will work on a no win no fee basis

Leaseholders should not do the work themselves.  They do not own the stairwell and to paint something that isn’t their property is likely to be against the terms of their lease

As a general rule, if the landlords have not sent the correct demand with the correct wording you do not need to pay the service charge.  There are some subtleties to this so get legal advice before you act.  

A leaseholder complained she was being charged for extra fire doors she did not think were necessary.  She was told it is very hard to challenge works that are done to satisfy fire safety requirements.

Next Steps
Stephen will work with a friend of his to identify which households on the estate are privately owned (this might mean they are occupied by leaseholders or might mean they are occupied by private tenants)

Chris will create a google sheet.  Everyone at the meeting will upload the breakdown of their current service charges (e.g. how much for internal cleaning, how much for building maintenance) with details of the block.  Then people can check if there’s any variation. If people have service charge statements from previous years they can upload those figures too so we can check the increase. We hope we will get actual, rather than estimated, charges by the end of the month so people should upload actual charges to the spreadsheets. Actual charges are much easier to challenge than estimated ones.

Once we have evidence we will ask everyone to submit a complaint to their landlord based on the element in the service charge that has increased the most.  If the landlords don’t respond we can escalate to the Housing Ombudsman and possibly the press, housing associations hate embarrassment. A councillor can help with this.

Chris to identify a “team leader” for each housing association to action this.


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