Leaseholders have the right to manage their homes

As our campaign spreads, flat owners are taking control of their properties - and we show you how

Some five million people are living in leasehold properties today, and most will have had no realistic alternative because nearly all flats are sold on this basis in England and Wales.

The leasehold sector is unregulated and anyone can be a freeholder or managing agent, so it’s vital to understand your rights and get to grips with how your block is managed. As a leaseholder you have the legal right to ask for a summary of how service charges have been calculated and spent, along with any paperwork such as receipts. Landlords must also consult leaseholders for any work costing more than £250.

There are, of course, honest and obliging freeholders who put in place competent managing agents, but as our ongoing campaign for a fair deal for leaseholders has shown there are others who are less scrupulous.

One thing that unhappy leaseholders can do is take back control, as Karen Peel did when she overcame the odds to help 137 owners assume management responsibilities for  The Pinnacle development in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

When Karen, a 55-year-old businesswoman, helped her son buy his flat back in October 2007, she knew nothing about the leasehold system. But when issues began to arise, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“The development was going downhill fast and nobody wanted to know, even though the managing agents had increased the management fees when they took over,” says Karen – claims that are vehemently contested by Adderstone, the umbrella company for Avoca Estate Management, which managed the Pinnacle development at the time. In a statement, it said that Avoca Estate Management was appointed only in 2010, and the firm didn’t get a “reasonable chance to put right the problems it inherited”.

Big property managers don’t often have to deal with someone as determined and organised as Karen – only a handful of owners lived on site so she spent six solid months tracking down leasehold owners living as far away as Abu Dhabi and China to get the 90 per cent support she needed to serve her “right to manage”  (RTM) application.

The residents took over control in December 2012, and have appointed a new company to manage the block on a 12-month contract.

“They are doing a fantastic job. We’ve worked together on a programme of improvement and general repair, and all the tenants and leaseholders are saying how nice it’s looking. It’s a much safer and more secure place to live,” says Karen.

“We saved £5,000 on buildings insurance in the first year and last year we had over £25,000 left in a reserve fund, which has allowed us to decorate the whole building. We never had a surplus with our previous managing agents.”

In response, the former managing agent Avoca says the insurance in place now is less comprehensive than the one they provided. As for the sinking fund, the former managing agent says it inherited an overspend and as a result it is not fair to compare the two situations.

Karen now has her sights set on enfranchisement so that residents of The Pinnacle can have complete control over their homes. She is even helping leaseholders from other developments to take a stand.

“Things are really looking up for us,” she says. “We are a very strong group of leaseholders and it is the best thing we ever did by taking control. I would advise anyone to only buy a leasehold that has a management company controlled by the leaseholders, or freehold property where all the owners have a share of the title.”

Unfortunately, not every building has a Karen, and even when leaseholders do fight back it often means going to a tribunal where they have to compete with the financial muscle and in-house lawyers of big companies. Expensively assembled teams of lawyers at tribunals can be a big problem for leaseholders who decide to take action, particularly vulnerable, elderly residents who cannot cope with the pressure and extra costs.

The Independent on Sunday spoke to Sir Peter Bottomley, the Conservative MP for Worthing West, who has seen leaseholders from his constituency come up against barristers using every trick in the book to delay hearings and contest RTM applications.

“To use technical skills to frustrate justice in my view is wrong. I’ve seen some of my constituents subjected to what I describe as legal torture. A barrister has a professional duty to be of assistance to the proceedings,” he says.

It is crucial that you challenge any charges properly and professionally if you think they are unreasonable. Do not stop paying the ground rent or service charge, or you could quickly find yourself in breach of your lease and potentially facing forfeiture, losing your home altogether.

RTM is still a powerful tool but leaseholders must work together to be effective. Nearly all leasehold flat owners are entitled to set up an RTM company and take over the management responsibilities, as long as the building comprises of at least two flats and has a minimum two-thirds of the flats on long leases.

At least half the total number of flats must agree to join the RTM company but, crucially, there is no need to get the landlord’s consent, and you do not have to prove mismanagement. That said, you should all be clear that there are duties and liabilities that come with managing a building.

Ian Baggett of the Adderstone Group warns that RTM is not always the panacea it is portrayed to be.

He says: “It is not uncommon for the RTM process to lead to significant fallouts between leaseholders and neighbours with the result  that management becomes driven more by internal politics than the principles of good estate management.

“As freeholders, we have on more than one occasion had leaseholders plead with us to reappoint our management company after the RTM company became insolvent within a couple of years of incorporation, through poor management and non-existent credit control.”

If you are going to take over the management or even freehold of the building, you must have realistic expectations about the level of service charge for which everyone will become liable.

For all but the very smallest buildings, there is a lot to consider – lifts, door-entry systems, communal lighting and smoke alarms all mean extra costs, and although it may be tempting to scrimp, it is in everyone’s interest to put money aside  for expenses.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Sell it with flowers: competition is 'intense' for homes with outside spaces

Gardens add a tenth to the value of your home

A London estate agent yesterday put a price on having a garden. David Pollock of Greene & Co reckons it can increase a property's value by a tenth.

Spectators at the Isle of Wight music festival watch the World Cup on the big screen. Betting promotions were a feature of the tournament
Lenders have been accused of persuading vulnerable people to borrow expensive credit

Payday loan firms accused of bombarding vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls

Payday loan firms have been accused of bombarding financially vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls, after a debt charity reported that a third of its clients were plagued by the messages.

The foundation proposed that the Government sets up a scheme to help people avoid losing their homes

Mortgages: 'Homeowners could trade down to shared ownership to defuse rate rise timebomb'

A plan to defuse a “mortgage debt timebomb” when interest rates rise is published today amid warnings that 2.3m households could struggle with their repayments.

Current accounts are too costly and confusing, says CMA as it announces investigation into Britain's biggest banks

Competition regulator to investigate market where it's hard for customers to make comparisons and the big banks' charges can be set too high
All the signs have been pointing up for buy-to-let, but there are clouds on the horizon

Buy-to-let: is it a boom or a bubble fit to burst?

People borrowing to be landlords could face the same restrictions as homebuyers, with MPs voicing fears that property speculation may be overheating the market

Moment of truth for payday lenders: Watchdog plans to curb cost of short-term loans

The chief of the City watchdog, Martin Wheatley, spoke exclusively to The Independent's Simon Read about its attempts to control the worst excesses of unscrupulous high-cost credit companies

Consumers given power to choose a green deal

How would you like to be able to choose how your electricity is made and even where it come from? It may sound futuristic and fanciful but the independent supplier Co-operative Energy has made it a reality this week.

'Scrap the trap': calls for change grow as banks are told to play fair with loyal savers

City regulator says existing customers suffer worst rates

Motor insurers divided on proposals for whiplash ban

MPs want medical evidence for claims. Will this bring higher premiums?

British Gas repays £1m for mis-sold deals

British Gas was yesterday forced to pay back £1m to its customers after mis-selling them energy deals.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

    £200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

    Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

    Operations Engineer (Redhat, UNIX, Solaris, Data Centre, Cisco)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Operations Engineer (Redhat, UNIX, Solaris, Data...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices