Crumbling facades and frayed nerves: In 1983 George Rose was told to repair his listed flat . . . work starts next month

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Indy Lifestyle Online
In 1983 a letter arrived telling me that my property, one of four self-contained flats in a 19th-century townhouse, had been listed as architecturally important. Some weeks later another letter stated that because the property was now a 'Listed B dwelling' there were several major defects needing to be put right in order to bring it up to standard. These defects, served under a Section 108 Notice, included roof and drainpipe renewal, restoration of the facade and new damp proofing. It further stated that unless these defects were put right within 21 days, the council would do the necessary repairs and invoice each owner.

A meeting was called. One owner, Mr Sanchez, was unemployed and unable to contribute. A second, Mr Jones, was an irascible pensioner, defensive and unhelpful. The third owner, Mr Smith, lived 100 miles away and rented out his flat. The outcome was confusion and stalemate.

Meanwhile, a complication had arisen with our chimneys. These were also the legal responsibility of owners of attached properties. Overall, 12 owners proved responsible for two crumbling chimneys. Attempts to get all 12 people together kept failing. One of them died. One suffered a marriage breakdown, became an alcoholic. Two sold up and moved on but their replacements were keen to get their property added to ours under a joint building contract. Mr Jones poo-poohed the idea and negotiations broke down.

Three years passed. The upstairs flat developed serious problems with wet rot. My ceiling leaked badly during heavy rain. We approached a dozen building companies. Some failed to turn up at agreed times, others declined to help. One ripped up some of my floorboards, replaced them haphazardly and thought the total cost of the work would exceed pounds 80,000.

Had we thought about a grant? Similar properties were being renovated. Stories circulated that 90 per cent grants were available. Hurriedly, I called a meeting - always at Mr Jones' convenience above everyone else. Two owners squabbled venomously. Mr Sanchez expected to get 100 per cent grant aid from wildly imaginative sources.

A ridiculous compromise was reached. We would spend a few hundred pounds fixing an overflowing drainpipe. One owner told the council about this, expecting them to rescind their Section 108 Notice. No reply came. The same owner started writing ill-informed letters of protest to various government departments. Each owner persisted in solving matters independently as, meanwhile, no building contractor was prepared to fix the overflowing drainpipe. Mr Smith secretly sold up and his flat became vacant for many months.

By 1987 there were more leaks, encroaching wet rot and a new owner in place of Mr Smith. Mr Sanchez, more anxious and upset, did various internal repairs himself but failed to stem the water damage. Mr Jones, the pensioner, became fiercely stubborn, first believing that the council would do the work and take pity on his status and, second, that he would die quite soon anyway, so why bother?

Eventually, after more meetings, it was decided to apply separately for a repair grant. Filling out the forms correctly by everyone took a month. The council did not acknowledge them.

The following year, the council told us that an architect would have to be appointed by us and specific costs submitted. I arranged for an enthusiastic architect to attend a meeting. Mr Jones took an instant dislike to the man - apparently his CV was not impressive enough and he looked 'rather seedy'. His career with us ended abruptly.

After a period of immense anger and frustration, I approached a second architect. Mr McB was a pleasant fellow and promised to help. He did not survey the property but went away and, eight months later, after much furious letter-writing, he mailed us some vague drawings and told us the cost would be about pounds 90,000. Was our grant application all right? Yes, as far as he knew, but in 1988 no grants were available. No grants were obtainable in 1989 or 1990 either, but did become available in 1991. The problem was that Mr McB failed to tell anyone. In 1992 the council told us that one owner's grant application was invalid. They had informed our architect, but again he had failed to tell us. We sacked him.

In the spring of 1993 the council asked if we still wished to apply for a grant. Yes, but one owner's application was invalid, wasn't it? No, it wasn't, said the new official, who went on to explain that 50 per cent grants might be available if we hurried things along. Our third architect, persuaded to help by Mr Sanchez, took immediate control when he first met us, but failed to turn up on a subsequent occasion. Mr Jones blamed me. After five months of worry and subdued expectation, the architect told us that the cost of repairs would be about pounds 100,000 - but there was a snag.

Before the council considers a grant, you must have your own contribution of pounds 12,500 in place. Another meeting was held and doubts raised as to whether the pensioner, Mr Jones, or the unemployed Mr Sanchez could raise that amount. The architect transported Mr Jones down to the council offices and helped him to fill out a form for a home loan. 'Splendid,' I said to Mr Jones. 'Ah,' explained Mr Jones, 'I didn't sign anything.'

Months passed as myself and the others tried to raise our personal contribution. A joint bank account was needed. A meeting was arranged with a bank. The manager told me to go away and bring one other owner together with six monthly statements and a typed list of all our 'Rules and Regulations'. Nobody had bank statements going back that far.

Eventually, we did get a joint account opened and, quietly elated, I wrote to the council, gave them our account number and asked if they would now consider our 1987 application. No, the architect must submit exact estimates. Our architect disagreed. Anyway, work will start in September, subject to a Building Warrant, naturally.

Two owners no longer speak to each other. The other week Mr Jones refused to contribute his share of the pounds 75 to do some basic work to the front porch. Irascible as ever, he was extremely rude to the young surveyor who came round a few days later to look at the place. Why blame this surveyor? After all, he was wearing short pants when this saga began in 1983.

All names have been changed

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