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and not reading into it what you want to find there. The first mistake of some agents is that they see what they want to see, not what is actually there. They only read the obligations of one party and do not form a balanced view of the obligations of both.

Having checked the facts, next comes discussion. E-mails are no substitute for picking up the telephone, or having a face to face meeting (depending on the severity /urgency of the problem). At this point you will find out if you are dealing with reasonable and rational people who want agreement or resolution on fair terms or whether you are dealing with one or more irrational and unreasonable people who either do not want resolution or want it only on their terms.

The formal letter should identify the problem, set out the relevant lease terms, set out the agreed facts and state your advice as to how the problem ought to be resolved. After this point in the procedure, reasonable problems will have been resolved and you will be left with the brick walls and crusaders to contend with.

Dealing with unreasonable people Every dispute is different and requires its own individual approach but there are general principles which can be followed and adapted to take account of the individuals concerned or the circumstances of the problem.

I have set out above the importance of getting the facts right when communicating with the individuals in dispute or the directors. If there is an unresolved problem which now involves the whole block then a report setting out the facts sent to all leaseholders is something that might be considered. One of the rules of communication is total transparency - without transparency you can resolve nothing.

Sometimes, such a report needs to be followed up with an evening meeting to give all residents the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers. Take care to avoid being accused of holding an evening meeting on the day before a religious festival, during the period when most people are on holiday and other inconvenient times.

It may be that the individual/group causing the problem will boycott the meeting. That really doesn't matter because they will have been given notice of the meeting, an opportunity to attend and participate, and the meeting will be followed by minutes being sent out to all lessees. If the issues subsequently go to the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) or Court, the published agenda and the minutes, including an attendance list, will be important documents.

Every leaseholder should receive adequate notification and an agenda. The aim is to bring all participants in the dispute and their views out into the open for maximum possible exposure. If a report has not already


Sue Maunder Taylor is a chartered surveyor and property manager with

Maunder Taylor in Potters Bar Issue 20

gone to leaseholders it must go out with the agenda.

It goes without saying that the property manager or other senior person from the managing agent must be fully conversant with the problem and ready to answer some difficult questions. There are likely to be some surprise questions to which the only possible reply is that the question had not been anticipated and the answer will be published in the minutes. Even if the whole problem cannot be resolved at such meetings there will be no doubt in anybody's mind about the position taken by each party and the facts on which each party relies.

The minutes must be fair and informative. Remember, if this matter has to go to the FTT or court, the honesty and objectivity of the managing agent will be measured against the accuracy of those minutes.

Dealing with the board of directors Sometimes advising a board of directors is difficult. In many cases they are well meaning people but do not have training in the terms of the lease or up-to-date law and are trying to do the impossible – keep everybody happy.

The managing agent needs to be able to give reliable advice to avoid the risk of unnecessary litigation leading to disproportionate costs. The most effective tool which a managing agent has is a formal letter sent to each individual director following this format:

These are the facts; This is my advice; and Please let me have your written instructions.

Some breaches of the lease may be waived by demanding or accepting rent (ground rent or

service charges) with knowledge of the alleged breach. That is one of the facts which ought to be brought to the attention of the directors.

When change is needed The only managements worth having in the long term are co-operative managements. If a reasonable level of co-operation cannot be achieved after every effort has been made, then it may be time, however uncomfortable that may be, to bring this management to termination.

There are some blocks out there which are literally unmanageable until some structural changes have occurred to the ill informed, entrenched, dogmatic attitude of some of the people to whom the service has to be delivered. Never be afraid to call time when you have done everything possible. Your investment should be in your staff and the service they deliver, not in building up numbers for the sake of volume.

Sometimes the managing agent's resignation can trigger those fundamental structural changes which were necessary; sometimes blocks pass through the hands of several managing agents within a short space of time; and sometimes they end up being the subject of a management order by an FTT appointed manager ( see page 47 of the last issue of Flat Living for more on this).

Many blocks of flats achieve co-operative management without too much difficulty, largely because of good communication between all persons involved. A few blocks are in mild or serious difficulty, often because communication is either ineffective or has broken down. Restoring good communication in these cases involves a much greater depth of skills and understanding than is generally portrayed by motivational speakers, or by those involved with co-operative managements. It is worth remembering the old cliché that a good communicator is not judged by performance when everything is going well, but by performance when all the lines of communication are down.

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