DIY redecoration of common areas

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    DIY redecoration of common areas

    I own a flat in a converted townhouse in west London. There are 4 flats and we have a small common entrance hall and staircase.

    The management company have just just submitted their estimates to redecorate the 25ft x 4ft hallway (10ft high) with their lowest cost coming in at £15,300+VAT which is extortionate.

    All the leaseholders are working together to obtain more sensible costs!

    my questions is: can we just go ahead and get the work done ourselves before the management company appoint their contractor?

    i assume they can’t redecorate the hall once we have had it redecorated? Or can they!

    just trying to avoid arguing with them over the cost or taking them to the LVT.

    Any advice appreciated.

    Obviously you are being stolen from -- which is not uncommon. A lot of law at the FH-lessee interface is about facilitated theft.

    Was there a S20 process?

    No you can't redecorate yourselves - bad idea. However you could get alternative quotes and put in an emergency application to FTT - and ask them to halt the works in the meanwhile.


      No you cannot. Also, unless the management failed to carry out proper section 20 consultations, you have lost the ability to even nominate a contractor.

      The cost of taking the issue up with the LVT will be very high because of the need to develop a time machine, or introduced new legislation. On the other hand, if the notes accompanying your service charge demands refer to the LVT, the service charge demand may be void, but can be reissued correctly.

      They can sue you for any cancellation fees they have to pay to their selected contractor, for wasted project management costs, and for the cost of bringing the decoration into the same state as they specified. You had better know what a class 0 paint is. They could try to get an injunction to stop your work, in which case you would be in contempt of court if you continued. They may be able to bring action for forfeiture of the lease, but that may depend on the wording of the lease; it might only be a trespass, not an actual beach of a covenant. It's unlikely that they could get an injunction requiring you to undo your work, unless you have compromised fire safety.

      You have an impossibly bad relationship ongoing, probably even more so than if you went to the FTT.

      It will be difficult to get quotes from alternative contractors if they don't think they have a chance to get the job, but if you can get one against the same specification, and from a contractor that would be acceptable (insurance, size, experience, safety record, etc.) you could still apply to the First Tier (Property Chamber) Tribunal, for a ruling that the resulting service charge was unreasonable and therefore not payable in full.

      The basic structure of section 20 has existed for about 24 years, so you should be aware of the process for nominating contractors.

      At this stage, all you can do is to request to see the quotes, which hopefully go into detail, and challenge any questionable costings. You have 30 days from the notice giving the estimates. (If you are this stage, they can't have incurred any contractor costs, but will probably have incurred project management costs.)


        Wow - thank you for the quick responses.

        It is a Section 20 notice but all the leaseholders objected to the initial notification saying that the redecorations should be a budgeted maintenance item and not a Section 20.

        We have now had their contractors estimates (they have 4 apparently) but no one has seen a builder or let them in to view the property, so we have no idea what they quoted on!

        I have requested to see the estimates (available at the property management office and can be seen by appointment they tell me).

        The leaseholders already have a quote for the flooring but are waiting for decorators estimates. I'm hoping we can make them review their costs before the 30 days consultation period expires.


          By management company, do you really mean managing agent, and if so, who is their client (but not their name)?

          If not, who owns the management company.

          Also, this is not a residential letting question, even if you are not an owner occupier; it is a long leasehold question.


            OK - sorry if it's in the wrong thread. Can I move it?

            The (4th) management company is appointed by the freeholder. I can't find a link between any of the companies to the freeholder though.


              Whilst agreeing (mostly) with what you say @leaseholder64
              - The mere fact that something passed through S20 does not mean that the costs are reasonable (a fundamental issue for FTT) or that the works proposed are reasonable, or that the works need doing at all, or that FTT will view it as reasonable. This is regardless of the fact that in this instance the lessees clearly did not understand what S20 is or how best to approach the sham competitive tender to at least get a toe in (OP, S20 has nothing at all to do with whether or not something is a budgeted item or how that budgeting happens)

              - The FTT will be well aware of mechanisms use by FHs to prevent proper competitive tendering (or even an appearance of that) via S20 (to state but two, they could set impossible criteria for contractors to fulfil, or they could get one "insider" lessee to nominate a contractor - they only have to select one).

              - In this case, based on what we have been told, the tenders are not based on free market quotes or any sort of realistic value by a factor of perhaps 5 to 10.

              It seems to me in this instance that the lessees must take the matter to FTT. They are being played and defrauded, or at least it seems that way.

              Clearly the lessees cannot nominate a contractor now via S20, but that fact does not preclude them questioning reasonableness. In much the same way that they can have things examined that did not go via S20 at all (like a 10x inflated insurance premium).

              This sort of thing is exactly the thing that makes freeholders look like scamsters and crooks- which many I am afraid clearly are.

              If OP informs FH they are taking the matter to FTT (and they should probably pay all requested service charges in full) - the FH does not have to halt the works - but the FH will be taking a risk if they do not. If FTT does find it to be unreasonable, the FH will have to carry the non-recoverable apparent expenditure out of their own pocket (abeit it is probably at least 75% kickback in a brown paper envelope)


                Originally posted by Grid24 View Post
                It is a Section 20 notice but all the leaseholders objected to the initial notification saying that the redecorations should be a budgeted maintenance item and not a Section 20.
                That's not a valid objection and shows a common misunderstanding about section 20.

                Any budgeted maintenance project that exceeds £250 per leaseholder requires a section 20 consultation. By objecting on those grounds, you were actually trying to remove the protection that section 20 provides, which you can't do.

                Section 20 items, can be, and usually are, inlcluded in the budget for the annual payment on account. Non section 20 can still deplete the payment on account and require an immediate top up (if the lease allows).

                Your possible grounds for objecting at stage one are that the service charge doesn't cover the proposed work, the proposed work exceeds what is actually required for good maintenance, the work proposed is is incomplete in some way, or there is a better way of achieving the maintenance requirement that is allowed by the lease.

                Assuming all the quotes came within about 10% of each other, it is unlikely that they have been inflated. It is much more likely that the work specified was rather more expensive than you expected. As hinted before, any painting will probably have to be with class 0 paints which cost around £100 a can, although that wouldn't account for all of the figure. Carpets would, I think, need to be at least class 1. These are fire sterile areas, so you cannot compare the costs with those of decorating a domestic room of the same size. Nonetheless £13.5k sounds very large, but I still think most of the discrepancy will come down to the specification.

                There are some very expensive books, that might be findable in public libraries, which give standard costings for a wide range of building work, and it would be surprising if the quotes differed drastically form those.

                They won't be using a white van man with only a mobile phone number, and a history of health and safety prosecutions, so they won't get prices that most homeowners would get (and most buy to let landlords, although there are legal reasons why those should not be using that sort of contractor). If you get quotes, you need to request details of their public liability insurance, their health and safety policies, whether they have health and safety prosecutions, their financial stability, etc. If you don't do these, and the freeholder finds fault on them, the leaseholder nominated contractor won't even get asked to quote.


                  It is still possible to challenge reasonableness, but it will be difficult to get alternative quotes as you won't have the full specification and it costs firms money to quote, so they won't quote unless they think there is a reasonable chance of getting the work. If you do take it to the FTT, they will get a copy of the actual specification.


                    Originally posted by leaseholder64 View Post
                    Assuming all the quotes came within about 10% of each other, it is unlikely that they have been inflated.
                    That is just untrue. Freeholders and also their surveyors usually supply those who tender with a so called indicative price.

                    £15K for painting an area of that size to whatever specification is simply not plausible. There are simply no nice rationales which can be made, class 0 paint or otherwise.

                    It is a real pity that politicians have been exercised by the escalating ground rent issue (a total red herring - often these are perfectly sensible, and are in any case knowingly signed to - in most cases). They are ignoring the much bigger scandal of fraudulent service charges, the many manifestations of that, and the legal hurdles placed in the way of those trying to address them.

                    Are you really a predominant lessee leaseholder64 -- I somehow doubt that given your lack of anger at evident problems.


                      Just paid a fraction of that for a lot larger area.

                      Get some more quotes. Tell the management company you will be challenging them on it.

                      Read up on ‘Right To Manage’ here;



                        Thanks again for the very detailed and considered responses from everyone - it really is appreciated.

                        I have an appointment to view the estimates at the management company office later this week so I should be able to find out exactly what has been quoted and the specification requested.

                        I'll post again as the topic progresses if that's OK - I think threads like these are really important and give other people in a similar position a great deal of useful information.


                          You need to get away from this freeholder as soon as you possibly can. I assume that you are not members of the management company. In that case try RTM or try to purchase the freehold if you can obtain a sensible price,.

                          You need to obtain copies of the estimates, I doubt that any of them are genuine. It is not uncommon for freeholders to ask their friends to submit quotes slightly less than the one they intend to accept in order to give the appearance that they are seeking competitive quotes when they are not.

                          You can apply to the FTT but expect the freeholder to pay its costs out of the service charge monies. Even if you succeed and apply for a s20C order that costs may not be charged in future service charges, that does not mean that the freeholder will restore the service charge funds to their correct level and that may require legal action to be taken against the freeholder.

                          You should look closely at the other costs which are being charged to you as well.


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