Midweek Money: Leaseholders plan a lobby of Parliament

Flat-owners demand legal reform
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The Independent Culture
THOUSANDS OF flat-owners around Britain are preparing for a mass lobby of Parliament next month to demand a total overhaul of existing legislation on landlords and tenants.

The lobby, on 24 November, will involve both national and regional leasehold groups representing the majority of the UK's 2 million flat-owners.

Some flat-owners involved in the working party that is organising the lobby are victims of landlords who have overcharged for "services" and failed to provide accounts which adhere to landlord and tenant laws. Others have been denied their legal right to purchase collectively the freehold of the block they live in, either when the landlord decides to sell (known as "the right of first refusal") or even if the landlord does not wish to sell (known as "collective enfranchisement").

Leasehold organisations recently met to discuss plans for the demonstration and the key issues to focus on. Among the representatives were Stella Evans, chair of the Coalition for the Abolition of Residential Leaseholds (Carl). The talks also included groups such as Freedom from Leasehold Abuse (Freela) and the Leasehold Enfranchisement Association. Another key figure at the meeting was the Brent North MP Barry Gardiner, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold Reform.

Ms Evans says: "We want the reform process to speed up. Leaseholders spend pounds 175bn a year on maintenance and service charges, and that's a big part of the economy. Some of that goes straight into the pockets of unscrupulous landlords."

The Government has promised a radical shake-up of the present leasehold system but the long-awaited consultation document has still not materialised. Sources involved in its preparation now claim that it will be sent out by the middle of November, which should give leaseholders an opportunity to study the content before the mass lobby of Parliament.

Even quite staid institutions will sometimes back leaseholders, if only indirectly. Charlotte Martin, head of Freela, who is helping to organise the lobby, recently received a pounds 20,000 loan from Birmingham Midshires, the mortgage lender, to help pay for an expensive court case against her landlord.

Ms Martin says: "I was relieved and felt I had my life back. It restored my faith in some kind of justice."

You are welcome to write to Karen Woolfson c/o Nic Cicutti, "The Independent", One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Karen regrets she is unable to reply personally to all letters.

For details of the lobby at 2.30pm on 24 November, contact Charlotte Martin, Freela, PO Box 26303, London N3 7WJ; or Stella Evans, Carl, PO Box 3076, Littlehampton, West Sussex BN17 5BTY