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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Sarah Bibby and Robert Allinson, with their children Charlotte and Ethan, confronted the ‘difficult’ questions’ posed by making a will

Simon Read: There may be trouble ahead for cohabiting couples who don’t make a will

Your children have it all, your partner gets nothing

Halfords is gearing up for Christmas

Bargain Hunter: Find the deals that have real value beneath the Black Friday hype

Halfords is gearing up for Christmas

Fields of dreams: venture capital trusts help young companies to grow, potentially delivering big returns for investors

Mark Dampier: You take a chance but VCTs have sorted the wheat from the chaff

Fields of dreams: venture capital trusts help young companies to grow, potentially delivering big returns for investors 

The FCA has imposed £1.1bn in fines on five banks over forex trading practices

Simon Read: Catch 22 for borrowers who are turned down by banks

There are many reasons for people to turn to high-cost credit, but being turned down by their banks for a loan is one

The battle between the banks to attract more current account customers moved up a level this week when Yorkshire Bank (and Clydesdale Bank) launched a market- leading £150 switching incentive.

Money Insider: Would £150 make you switch banks?

The £150 incentive from Yorkshire and Clydesdale runs from now until 28 February next year, but you must use the official Current Account Switching Service (CASS) and close your existing account to qualify

The short slope that takes women all the way down to living on the streets

For the rising number of homeless women, the struggle is compounded by health problems and by losing their children

If you’ve got a card in your wallet that charges a low standard interest rate, there’s less financial impact if you can’t repay your full statement balance.

Money Insider: Save money with the right credit card

Research from Sainsbury’s Bank Credit Cards this week revealed that 15 per cent of people making a large purchase on their plastic didn’t use one with 0 per cent interest on purchases

Last week was hangover time, when Stock Spirits, a vodka producer, distilled a profit warning that sent its shares crashing more than 25 per cent. (image: Rex Features)

No Pain No Gain: Vodka causes a hangover as shares in Stock Spirits slump

Last week was hangover time, when Stock Spirits, a vodka producer, distilled a profit warning that sent its shares crashing more than 25 per cent

Investment melting pot: the price of gold may have fallen but Artemis Strategic Assets believes its value cannot be debased

Mark Dampier: Strong returns can be found if you go the opposite way to the crowds

Investment melting pot: the price of gold may have fallen but Artemis Strategic Assets believes its value cannot be debased

The Bank of England announced that interest rates will stay at 0.5 per cent

Simon Read: Banks can’t blame the economy for their low rates

Interest rates are currently as low as 0.1 per cent

The schemes work by using collective power to negotiate better deals with gas and electricity suppliers

Simon Read: Don’t blow a fuse with your energy supplier, just switch

The energy watchdog Ofgem has slammed Scottish Power, while Citizens Advice reports a string of complaints about it

John Lush from Hampshire got into debt with payday lenders and had the help of a debt management charity to clear the £20,000 he owed

Simon Read: The only place for debt is out in the open, don't be afraid to ask for advice

John Lush from Hampshire got into debt with payday lenders and had the help of a debt management adviser to clear the £20,000 he owed

Seven Families campaign aims to raise awareness of financial damage caused by illness or disability

The campaign is handing financial help to seven families for a year, along with support and advice in how to get their careers back on track
The 10th birthday of broadband in Britain was marked with a projection in 2010. But the infrastructure is still being rolled out

Families pay the price of superfast broadband

Bills are going up for households around the UK as providers invest in better infrastructure. Emma Lunn explains why - and what to do

How to cut the cost of car insurance: A five-step guide to getting a better deal

Premiums are on the rise again but motorists don't have to take a back seat on the price of their cover, says Rob Griffin
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

    Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

    Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Execution Trader

    £30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global Rolling Spot FX, Comm...

    Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

    £Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game