Section 20 despite long term neglect of the buildings

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  • Section 20 despite long term neglect of the buildings

    For the last 6 months myself and fellow residents have been trying to defend ourselves against freeholder company with S20 work. Incredibly frustrating as they seem to not have the answers to the most basic questions.

    Current estimate of work is £15k for each household.

    My question is this

    I know that legally they can pretty much do what they want

    We have been asking repeatedly for the maintanance and repair records for the building and they have not supplied them, despite agreeing to. They keep stalling.

    We believe they don't have any, as for the last 10 years there has been no work done other than some painting which was actually done poorly and reported to them but was never repaired.

    So now we have:

    1) balconies that are so unsafe they've issued formal notices not to stand on them
    2) guttering which is over flowing continually
    3) damp coming into the properties
    4) rotting cladding outside
    5) Porches with large gaps where wood has splintered and fallen away
    6) Scaffolding holding up some parts of the outside

    If you accept the view that they have neglected this building so badly that now they need to entirely refurb ALL outside areas, then do we have ANY chance of fighting this in court?


    I have looked into civil court and the official guide states:
    • The Judge hears the case on his or her own
    • deciding them by finding facts
    • applying the relevant law to them
    • and there may be considerable argument about what that law actually is – and then giving a reasoned judgment

    So my view is that this is a large extent of what does the common man believe? This company that has over £47m in assets, and over £8m revenue are trying to charge us substantial costs for work due to them not having maintained the buildings.

    I keep hearing "legally they can do XYZ"... well legally has this EVER been challenged formally? I can't help but feel we have a good case here. Am I wasting my time or is this worth pursuing?


  • Macromia
    Have you instructed a suitably qualified surveyor to prepare a professional report detailing what they consider the cumulative costs would have been if regular maintenance work had been carried out (perhaps sharing the costs with other leaseholders)?

    It sounds like there is a lot of maintenance/repair work that urgently needs to be carried out, but for whatever reason is still not being done. The freeholder needs to get this work done without further delay, and if they aren't doing the work you need to find out why - it may be that they don't have the funds because people are refusing to pay in advance.

    As far as the cost is concerned, I would think that your only hope of getting this reduced is if you can successfully argue that the total costs have increased as a result of neglect. It will be difficult to argue this if the cumulative costs if annual maintenance work had been carried out would come to a similar amount.
    Any leaseholders who have carried out their own repairs may be able to offset the cost of this against future demands, and there is a possibility that a court might grant some compensation as a result of neglect (e.g. for loss of use of parts of the leased property), but this would likely be expensive to pursue and, even if granted, might be less than the legal costs (especially if your leases allows the freeholder to charge their cost of defending legal action back to the leaseholders).

    Engaging fully in the section 20 consultation should help to ensure that the costs of work are reasonable for what is actually carried out.

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  • redrabbit

    Last August they said they wanted to do major works and they planned to start it in April this year. It would cost 15-20k

    In January they stated they planned the work to start in May and would cost around 10-12k

    It is now nearly July and work has not started. In fact theg stage they received two quotes but they were more than anticipated. They are "reviewing their options"


    I don't know how long this will go on for. Many of my questions and emails are unanswered.

    My partner has been really struggling and the last week hasn't been good as we are just really desperate to move on with our lives. That is hard when we have no clue when this work will start, how long It will take or even how much it will cost.

    I don't even know exactly what work they're planning other than a list of items like "balcony, guttering, cladding". That is the most detail I have.

    GF wants to try to sell house again and attract buyers with a lot of room for negotiation. And also we will rent after so there will be no chain

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  • redrabbit

    A couple of interesting developments:

    1): Letter from 10 years ago

    A lettings agent that rents two houses for leaseholders has a letter from 2010. That was sent by the freeholder in which they outlined their intention to repair and "patch up" balconies, guttering and cladding.

    This was never done.

    More evidence of neglect

    2) I've sent a letter now

    The joint letter that I drafted with everyone has today been hand delivered with 12 signatures of leaseholders. I have asked them to reply by 10th April or something like that.

    The work is due to start in May and we have still not yet entered the formal consultation period.

    3) Meeting with my MP

    After emailing my MP about 3 times, he has agreed to have a meeting with me. I had the option of inviting other leaseholders but I won't at this time as I don't want it to water down discussions.

    The meeting will be in about 2 weeks time

    I'll do some preparation beforehand and have a very clear bullet point list of the issues I want to raise, and also the questions/points I want to make.

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  • vmart
    Hi redrabbit

    From the photo and description your property appears to be a maisonette. As Gordon999 suggested check the title at the Land Registry for the definition.

    Leave a comment:

  • redrabbit
    That picture is coming out really small for some reason, despite clicking "Large" version.

    Here's the full size version:

    Leave a comment:

  • redrabbit
    Here's a photo of my house/flat. Always confused about what to call it.

    I have my own front door which leads to internal stairs.
    That leads up to the living room/kitchen and downstairs toilet
    More stairs leads up to two bedrooms and bathroom

    On the ground floor are actual flats.

    The Building Work

    The white panelling is in a really poor state. Some rotten, splintered, really dirty and horrible.
    The porches have holes in and are being held up by scaffolding in one area
    The guttering is blocked on some houses and overflowing
    The balconies - we've been told we are not allowed to stand on them as they're structurally unsafe
    Attached Files

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  • eagle2
    The advice which you received to instruct a surveyor would have been based on the assumption that you wish to challenge the reasonableness of any charges due to the neglect of the freeholder. You would need a surveyor to inspect the property before the work is carried out, prepare a report, take pictures and estimate how much of the cost would be normal repairs and maintenance and estimate how much of the cost is due to neglect.

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  • Gordon999
    In your post 3, you say your property is a town house and not a flat ? What does your property title ( at Land Registry) say ?

    Are you owner of a leasehold House Or leasehold Flat ? Are some 21 houses under freehold title at your site ?

    Leave a comment:

  • Garlicbutter
    I'm a Leaseholder who went through S20 major works. It started at £7k and spiralled to £42k (my share alone) due to unforeseen works.

    Had I known more about the S20 process I would have sought advice from a solicitor early on.

    Also had I known that lessees are able to object to the freeholders surveyor we would have done so and requested our own independant surveyor to investigate the works thoroughly and provide a clear scope of works and costs.

    I recommend you join the National Leasehold Campaign on Facebook where there are 12k leaseholder members who can help and support you. Also look at Leasehold Knowledge Partnership. There are recommended specialist lawyers on the LKP site where you can get advice.

    It would be better to educate yourself with the consultation process rather than challenge at the first tier tribunal. I have been 4 times and incurred thousands of extra costs of the freeholders legal team.

    Enfranchisement is a good idea too but make sure you follow the statutory route and not just ask the freeholder informally for a cost. It's also possible to apply for right to manage (if you qualify) and take control of the works through your own managing agent. However it can take 6 months to get.

    Sounds like you need the works done and done well. Therefore if you just want to get it done, instruct your own surveyor. Then get your own quotes from your own contractors. You may find its a fairer cost and works are executed well if you take control.

    If you do check out the sites I've mentioned, pls also join in with the law commissions consultations and petition. There is a lot happening for Leasehold reform in govt currently.

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  • redrabbit
    There doesn't seem to be many solicitors that I can see who deal with S20 Leaseholder disputes. Also, do you think I am acting too early - the formal consultation has not started yet but they want to start building in May. So I feel I should be getting ahead now.

    I spoke with the Leaseholder Advice Service today - not sure if it was that useful. In fact it was very disappointing really. The person just seemed to say "yes you could do that".... "Yes why not"... with no real advice.

    E.g. "Yes you can submit a letter - why not?"

    She did suggest getting a Surveyor round but I don't see how they would help. The building has cladding on the outside which is rotten and falling to bits. part of the worries are we don't know what's; behind that. A surveyor would have the same issue.

    Really confused

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  • eagle2
    Please note that you need to be a leaseholder at the time that you make an application to the Tribunal or to the Court. Any application would need to be disclosed to the prospective purchaser and therefore could affect your sale.

    You should seek legal advice regarding the content of a letter and it would be better for it to be issued by a solicitor. You are right to be concerned about accepting liability for the majority of the costs, a letter would need to be drawn up carefully to list all items which you are challenging and it will be implicit that anything not contained within the letter will be regarded as agreed.

    If you are looking for a quick sale and solution, you may wish to make a without prejudice offer once you have a firm quote to work on but there is no saying how the freeholder will respond.

    I would not dismiss the idea of purchasing the freehold interest, that could attract potential buyers of your property. I would certainly leave it as an option if you intend to try to negotiate with the freeholder.

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  • redrabbit
    Thanks everyone, some really useful views here.

    Our priority is to move house, and therefore we need this work to start in May, and finish 4 months later as the freeholder has stated. I am concerned it will overrun and also concerned about the quality. However, that's a separate issue at this stage.

    As soon as the work is done we want to get the house on the market and move. So maybe paying the money and THEN trying to recover some is the best action.

    As stated we have written a joint letter. It's very good, factual and clearly lays out what our concerns are. My worry with this letter is it says something like "there is numerous reports of neglect and we feel you are not taking account for your failures in upkeep. We request that you pay a proportion of the costs, such as guttering and scaffolding".

    The reason we selected scaffolding was because that is quite a large part of the costs due to it being a 3 storey building. I am concerned that by saying this, maybe I am basically agreeing that I will pay some or most of the cost, when in fact I am not saying that at all.


    I also need to be aware of timing. The formal consultation has not yet started. They have not got their two quotes. So I don't want to start jumping the gun in terms of any formal action.

    HOWEVER, I am worried as they say the invoices will be given at the end of the project, as they can't predict EXACTLY what each property will require. E.g. they take off some wood and they may find issues. Some need new balconies, some don't.

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  • andydd

    From the wording of your post it sounds as if you have little experience of Leasehold Law.

    The main points to bear in mind are:-

    1. Service Charge amounts are recoverable contractually down top the lease, this normally allows the FH to recover costs to maintain the building.

    2. Unlike most other areas of expense the LH is protected by the need for the FH to only incur costs that are reasonable, now of course what is reasonable or not is upto the panel that sits at an FTT (note this jurisdiction of reasonableness sits with an FTT not a county court, the CC deals with more black n white/legal matters).

    3. The FTT is supposed to be more of an informal/low cost forum for leasehold disputes although most of us know it has become anything but, personally I prefer and have had far more success at county court small claim track.

    4. The most important bit in your case is the element of Historic Neglect, the argument that if the FH had done the work when he was supposed to it only would of cost £100 but now its going to cost £1000 due to his delay, see here >


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  • eagle2
    Just to expand on my earlier comments, if you apply to a Tribunal, you should expect your freeholder to be represented by a team of expensive experts, a solicitor, barrister and a chartered surveyor at a combined cost in the region of £1,000 per hour.

    Unless you are confident of arguing your case against experts, you would need to instruct experts as well, especially a chartered surveyor to prepare a report and explain why the cost of the work is unreasonable.

    Based on what you have described, you should have a good chance of reducing your share of the cost of the works but the more important issue will be who is liable for the costs of the case and there is never any guarantee that you would recover all of your costs. In order to protect your position, you would need to pay the freeholder’s demands and then try to recover any reduction made by the Tribunal.

    At the end of the case, “win” or “lose” your freeholder would remain in a position to impose future charges and there is no limit to the imagination of an unscrupulous freeholder when he has the right to charge leaseholders. I sympathise with you but I would give serious consideration to the suggestion made by Gordon999 in #2 of trying to purchase the freehold interest so that you can manage the property yourselves at a reasonable cost.

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