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Opinion


Why leaseholders need a united voice


In the absence of support for 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 small block of flats in London, I have been aware for some time of the rising tide of discontent among leaseholders with genuine concerns about the way in which their properties are managed. The transfer of the LVT’s powers – and the potential loss of the Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE) – means that the few enforcement facilities we do have, may in future be dangerously 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 or corporate investors with no real interest in their property other than collecting their rent cheques.


PRIVATE INTERESTS


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 private interest in a sector that is badly overdue for reform. Apart from the handful of


MPs - including Norman Lamb and Sarah Teather - who are calling for radical improvements in the sector, the government has shown no interest in


Alliance. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, 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.


FIGHTING FUND


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 and the RICS, which represents


chartered surveyors, are calling for reform, that says it all.


NEW CAMPAIGN


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 FPRA and IRPM, to come together to campaign for our rights on a united front. As a result, together with


a group of interested parties 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 tenants and leaseholders a stronger voice – under the banner of TALliance: The Tenants and Leaseholders


The initial alliance sponsors 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 that many leaseholders have to face on a daily basis. Flat Living readers who wish to add their voice to our campaign can contact me by email. We have already received more than 250 enquiries. Our ultimate aim is to establish an advisory centre manned by a dedicated professional team 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 is a fellow of the IoD, a member of the Camden Federation of Private Tenants, governor of the Camden and Islington Foundation Trust and a former investigative journalist. E: andrewblair6@yahoo.co.uk


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