Roger Southam asks....How do we solve the leasehold conundrum?

There is a constant debate going on among flat owners and property managers about the legislative changes that would solve all our leasehold woes.  Would making all properties Commonhold provide the answer?  What about giving leaseholders control of choosing the managing agent - or is it something else entirely? Feel free to fill in your own answer. Having spent a day on the phones at LEASE dealing with enquiries from disgruntled leaseholders, I am more convinced than ever that education is the key missing element.

Before you scream at the magazine and vow never to read my column again, let me clarify this statement.  Obviously you could know everything there is to know about leasehold and there would still be situations where a managing agent or freeholder acts inappropriately or questionably.  Equally there will always be leaseholders who will not pay their service charge or behave antisocially.  However, these are man-made issues; they are not caused by the lease or the law. 

Education in all areas and arenas has wide-ranging benefits. It would help all leaseholders to know their rights, their responsibilities and what expectations they should have in terms of management and services.  Equally, if we can raise the standard of property management then that has to be a good thing as well.

Many agents are now regulated via ARMA-Q and many others are trying to raise their game. However there are those who are not interested in improving standards and there are yet others who want to race to the lowest fees and bid down the market for a share of the business that is out there.  Surely it is in the interests of all the good agents to highlight the bad; and to raise awareness of what to expect to ensure people know how to address and solve their problems. 

From the calls I took while I was working at LEASE there was a very mixed bag of issues.  One of the most interesting things I discovered as a result of talking to flat owners one-to-one was that a good percentage of the calls were from leaseholders who owned their freehold.  The issues they had generally arose from the leaseholders falling out and disagreeing on how the building should be run.  Or one director had gone rogue, using tied parties to do works and the other directors wanted to get control back. 

Because there are as many different issues as there are blocks, I am not convinced that there is an easy solution to the leasehold conundrum, or a panacea that would mean everything runs smoothly.  As with any service, it is all about the customer - in this case the leaseholder.  As we know a block of flats is a community and the leaseholders are forced together and have to share the burden of running that development.  In order to do so, a consensus from the leaseholders is needed on their aims, aspirations and expectations.  If this can’t be achieved, a building has no hope of running smoothly.   

At LEASE we are committed to working with everyone in leasehold to improve understanding of the sector and to raise standards.  Of course there are changes in the law that would be helpful and developments in leasehold that would be beneficial.  But there is no quick and easy solution. Instead only a combination of all these things will deliver a robust leasehold sector for the benefit of all.

Roger Southam is the non-executive chairman of the Leasehold Advisory Service www.lease-advice.org