Why leaseholders need a united voice

Why leaseholders need a united voice

In the absence of support for sector reform from the government, Andrew Blair believes it’s time for leaseholders to make a stand

From recent press reports and my own experience as a leaseholder in a block of flats in London, I have been aware for some time of the rising tide of discontentment among leaseholders with genuine concerns about the way in which their properties are managed.  The possible transfer of the FTT’s powers – and its potential closure – means that the few enforcement facilities we do have, may in future be dangerously diluted. (Andrew – I can’t find reference to this anywhere – can you fill me in, ie when was it announced that the FTT may have its powers transferred/diluted?)

The problems faced by leaseholders are experienced in a wide range of situations. People living in retirement flats frequently report that they are facing excessive service charges and exit fees; other residents suffer as a result of ‘rogue lessees’ not paying their service charge and yet others find themselves outnumbered by ‘buy-to-let’ investors with no real interest in their property other than collecting their rent cheques. Property management companies are the cause of many of our problems but they are not the only culprits. Some do an excellent job while those that do not, give the rest a bad name. Lessees are equally at the mercy of unscrupulous freeholders and even fellow resident directors of RMCs  – all seemingly free to act in their own interest in a sector that is badly overdue for reform.

Apart from the handful of MPs who are actively crusading for radical improvements in the sector, the government has shown no interest in improving regulation or in outlawing the sharp practice that so many of us have to put up with. Housing minister Grant Shapps, in response to a letter from the ARMA chairman last year calling for better regulation and the introduction of service charge accounting regulations, dismissed these concerns. He said the government is “confident that the current legislative framework – if matched by an increasingly pro-active and positive approach by the professionals in the sector – can deliver the balance required”. He declared himself “not convinced” of the need for additional regulation. Well Mr Shapps – leaseholders like myself do not share your confidence  – and if the chairman of ARMA, which represents property managers, is calling for reform –  that says it all.

The only solution appears to be for leaseholders to take matters into their own hands and, with the support of the myriad of pro-leaseholder organisations such as CARL, the FRPA and others (Andrew, can you list other relevant organisations for me?) to come together to campaign for our rights on a united front.

As a result, together with a group of interested parties (who are they – can we name them?) both private and institutional, who are actively engaged in managing all types of UK property, I am now researching the need for a representative alliance to give leaseholders a stronger voice. The Department of Business, the Institute of Directors and Companies house have all been approached in order to clarify their official stance on leaseholder issues and I eagerly await their response. The initial alliance sponsors (can we name them?) have already pledged a sizeable fighting fund for the purpose of publicising leaseholder issues to government and the public and creating a national network to help coordinate the activities of the existing trade associations, professional bodies and government departments involved in this field. For the immediate future, myself and fellow organisers are simply concentrating on gathering as many case studies as possible from those affected by the growing problems many leaseholders have to face on a daily basis. Flat living readers who wish to add their voice to our campaign can contact me on the number below. We have already received more than 40 enquiries from private, local authority and housing association (is this correct?) tenants as well as a number of interested professional, keen to see these issues addressed. Our ultimate aim is to establish an advisory centre manned by a dedicated professional team with considerable experience of leasehold matters, which can offer advice to residents in the absence of stronger regulation, while we campaign for the reform that is so badly needed. 

Andrew Blair from Leaseholders Alliance can be contacted on 0795 4712009.