Lights, Lifts & Gates Whose Responsibility?

Laura Severn, Director at LMP Law, looks at the division of responsibility when it comes to the maintenance of lighting, lifts and gates.

When it comes to the practicalities of looking after lifts, gates and lighting within blocks of flats and apartments, whose responsibility is it to maintain them?

Let’s go through start at the beginning…your LEASE:

Your Lease

Your Lease is the most important document you have when it comes to owning your flat through a leasehold. This document will give you an overview of your responsibilities and what conditions you’ve agreed to. Examples of what your responsibilities are include:

  • if you need permission to make alterations
  • how much you’ll have to pay to maintain the property
  • whether you or your landlord has responsibility for repairs and dealing with noisy neighbours

As you will know (or hopefully know!) if you have bought a flat (and that could be a house broken up into flats or a purpose built block of flats, etc), then normally the leasehold you own relates to everything within the 4 walls of your flat.

So the communal areas need to be maintained by someone… and that someone is often in the guise of a property management company.

The freeholder usually appoints a company of professional managing agents who look after the overall maintenance. That’s where the fees come into play.

It’s well worth reminding yourself what SERVICE CHARGES and GROUND RENTS are and what you are paying for, and that includes knowing who’s in charge of repairs to internal communal areas. We will write about Service Charges and Major Works in this article only.

Service Charges

Have a look back over your lease as it will set out the way your service charges are organised and what can (or can’t) be charged. Most flat owners will pay a service charge, and if that’s you, you have the right to:

  • ask for a summary showing how the charge is worked out and what it’s spent on
  • see any paperwork supporting the summary, such as receipts

Your landlord must give you access to this information – it can be an offence if they don’t. Get to know the property managing agents and what their roles are. Most flat owners will have lights, lifts, gates and other communal services that need to be maintained, not just for aesthetics or convenience, but for safety too. Sometimes these items require additional repairs (outside the normal services charges).

Buildings insurance is normally covered by the service charges (you should stay on top of Contents Insurance) so again, check your lease and make sure you know what’s covered should something happen that requires insurers to cover a problem.

Generally speaking, the lease asks the leaseholder to be held responsible for looking after the part of the building they lease, such as:

  • internal plumbing
  • wiring
  • plasterwork and floorboards
  • the paintwork and decoration of their flat
  • any carpets
  • furniture and appliances

Major Works

Some major repairs may need to be paid in addition to services charges. Major works are usually the responsibility of the landlord.

Q. What funds do they come out of?

A. A reserve fund (or “sinking fund”) if available.

Leaseholders may pay into a sinking fund or reserve fund over a number of years. Leasehold law comes under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 so the term “major works” (sometimes known as “qualifying works”) is a term used under this Act. Alternatively, demands for the works may be sent out to leaseholders.

Q. How much do they cost?

A. If the costs of major works are going to be in excess of £250 for any one leaseholder, then the landlord is required to consult with leaseholders under Section 20.

Q. What is a Section 20?

A. There are three main notices that must be served on the leaseholders under a Section 20:

1. Notice of intention: This Notice must describe the proposed works, why the works are being considered and offer an invite to the leaseholders to make written observations within 30 days.

2. Notification of estimates: When the 30 day consultation period expires, it’s time for at least 2 estimates to be obtained by the landlord from contractors to carry out the works.

The landlord must provide to the leaseholder a Statement of Estimates setting out details of quotes obtained together with a summary of observations (received within the consultation period). The leaseholders are then invited to make observations (in writing) of those estimates within 30 days.

TIP: If this ever comes up, speak to a leasehold property lawyer to get more help, and look through Flat Living for more updates and tips on Major Works and what qualifies for the same.

3. Notification of award of contract: If you are not a legal professional or heavily into property law, this can all seem a little daunting and complicated. Essentially, this third part includes the why and what from contractors’ estimates and the leaseholders must be kept informed. Ultimately it’s a notification for you (as a leaseholder) as to why the landlord chose the contractor for the repair the major works. There are many variables to consider when gaining estimates from contractors, and sometimes the cheapest isn’t the best one.

You only have to pay into a sinking fund if your lease says you have to.

When we mention MAJOR WORKS, in property law and in leasehold terms, it means works that are required to maintain the building or premises, at an extra cost by the tenant under the terms of the lease through a “top service charge”.

If you are thinking of buying a flat it is SO important to get really good legal advice or the best leasehold lawyers on it, because there may be some works due, or the building, lift, gate or lighting may be particularly old or in need of some major TLC!

Conclusion

The law requires that leaseholders paying variable service charges must be consulted before a landlord carries out qualifying works or enters into a long-term agreement for the provision of services.

When you are buying your flat (congratulations!) as a leaseholder, speak to your solicitor or instruct a solicitor of your choice that is recommended to you.

As a leaseholder, there are many aspects of a lease and it’s really worth understanding your requirements before signing on the dotted line. If the stairs, gates, lifts, lighting and other communal working parts, look like they are old, out of date or might be an expensive addition to the usual services to repair, speaking to a specialist lawyer will guide you with the best advice going forward.

Laura Severn is a Director at LMP Law, specialist lawyers with a keen focus on the property management industry. She welcomes your questions.

Article first published in Edition 45 of Flat Living Magazine.