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Leases set outall the important rights and obligations whicheach flat owner has

Information needed

QUESTION IliveinaVictorian blockofconverted flats andhave beenreportingproblemswith the roof andgutters repeatedly butthemanaging agentappearstodonothing. Icannotfind out if abuilder hasbeeninstructed,whothat builder is,and have the opportunity to chase him up and findoutwhen somethingisgoingtobedone. What can I do?

ANSWER Complain directly to thelandlord, or to a director of themanagementcompany,orasenior person at themanagingagents. It is abad ideato rant andrave, as well as abad ideatowithholdyour servicechargepayment properly due. It is agood idea to be firmbut courteous. Give someidea ofwhen thetrouble started, exact

details or someidea of howandwhen youhave com- plained and, in the vastmajority of cases this will resolvethe problem.Whennot, someactionmust be considered.Formalactioncostsmoney,which you maynot recover.Theobjectistoget aresultwithout gettingembroiled in litigation or tribunal references. Step oneistotakeafewrelevantphotographs,set

Advice on freehold flats

QUESTIONWealreadyownour freehold, where canweget advice about running our block? Everything is about leasehold, nothingabout freehold. What arethe differences/benefits andwhere dowefind outmore about therequirements/administration of runningaresidentsmanagement company for freehold flats?

ANSWER It is a common misunderstandingthat, after flatowners have acquired thefreeholdinterest in theirblock,theybecomefreeholders. Inmost cases,the freehold interest is acquired by acompany ofwhicheach participatingleaseholderisashareholder oramember. They keep theirlease for theirflat and, alongsidethat, they own oneormoresharesormembershiprights in the freehold-owning company. They do notownafreeholdflat.Inmanycases, they then take steps to extend their old leases to 999 yearsduration, andoften eliminatetheir ground rent payments. They stillremain as leaseholders of their individual flats. Thereasonfor this is that theleases

set out all the important rights and obligationswhich each flatowner has, in relation to themanagement of the building as well as in relation to their rights andresponsibilities to their neighbours. TheLandRegistrywillregisterthe

freehold interest in up to four names so that, if asmall block (typically an old houseconverted into two, threeorfour flats)acquiresthe freehold interest,then each flatowner is also namedasone of thefreeholdowners. But, importantly,

Flat Living Spring2012

that does noteliminate theleases forthe reasons given above. The misunderstandings about

ownership have led to someextremely distressingcases.For instance,inone casethe flatownersdecided that they did not need both a freehold company andamanagementcompany,failedto make CompaniesHouse returnsonthe management company,whichwas then struck off,and foundthattheycould only sell their flats at heavily discounted prices because, in practice,there wasnow no longer anybody with the right to collect theservice charges,the dutytocarry outthemanagement services (neither of which was the right or responsibility of the freeholder), purchasers were advised nottobuy,andmortgage lenderswould not lend. It is fundamentallyimportant to

understandhow each flatowner needsan established and accepted documentary basisofenforcing theirrightsand having their obligations enforced against them, if enforcementeverbecomes necessary. Thealternative is to agreetoconvert to commonhold (see theCommonhold and LeaseholdReformAct 2002)but forthat everyflat ownerhas to agreeand very few blocks of flats in thewhole country have converted. Therefore, themanagementlaws,

practices and procedures of running a block of flats ofwhichthe flatowners effectivelyownorcontrol thefreehold interest is no different to runningablock ownedbyanoutside landlord (exceptfor one or twominor exceptionswhichwould requireafullpagearticle to explain and make no discerniblepractical difference!).


outyourcomplaintinwriting,include therelevant dates ofwhen the problemstarted,when and how youcomplained.Makeitclear that,ifthere has to be litigation,which youdonotwant, this letter and theattachedphotographs will be used in evidence. Itmay be incompetence, or that there is nomoney in theservice chargeaccounttopay thecosts, or thatmajorworks arenecessary andthere will be a timedelay for consultation procedures, etc. Use the managing agent’scomplaints handling procedure (assuming they have one),which defines timelimits for responses to be givenand ends up with a refer- ence to theOmbudsmanwhich, if there is a finding againstthemanaging agent, canthenbereferredto themanaging agent’s professional body (if the agent belongstoone)andmightleadtodisciplinaryaction by that professional bodyagainst theagent. Practicallyall cases will have beenresolved

by somemeans during that processbut,inthe unlikelyevent that thereisstill an issue,orthat youhavearesultant claim forunnecessary damage caused to your flatbythe delays,youmayfind it necessary to litigate.Ifpossible,keepthatwithin theSmall Claims Court procedure (claims not ex- ceeding£5,000)and handle it yourself.Ifyou have to go to solicitors,pleaserememberthe oldadage that no-one wins at law, it ismerely that oneparty loses less than the other party.

Complain directly to the landlord or to adirector of the

management companyor a senior person at the managingagents

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