APPG, April 26
A picture of relief and continued misery emerged from the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on leasehold and commonhold reform last week.
Relieved were two representatives of the 95-flat Citiscape site in Croydon, where Barratt – which built the site 17 years ago – is picking up the tab to replace the Grenfell cladding and pay for fire marshals.
Continuing misery was expressed by leaseholder Nigel Pickford at the New Capital Quay site, built only four years ago by Galliard – which is also the freeholder and manages the site. The £20-40 million bill to remove Grenfell cladding at the site is still the cause of wrangling between Galliard and warranty provider the NHBC, with neither is eager to pay up while leaseholders might be bullied into doing so instead. Or, perhaps, the government stepping in.
The life-disruption involved in living in a site where all the homes are blighted and cannot be sold was eloquently expressed by Mr Pickford, in the most powerful speech of the evening.
Sophie Barnes, acting editor of Inside Housing, which has published the most over the cladding issue, gave an overview of the scale of the crisis.
Other speakers included John Hall, director at the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, who updated MPs and leasehold sector insiders on the state of government action to outlaw leasehold houses and reduce ground rents to as low as zero.
Law Commissioner Professor Nicholas Hopkins outlined progress on his review of leasehold enfranchisement and extension, and commonhold.
From the floor, Andrew Selous MP raised the issue of those who had bought a lease with doubling ground rent as a re-sale, who are not covered in any of the redress schemes so far proposed by the housebuilders.
After the meeting there was a drinks reception to celebrate the achievements of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, which is also the secretariat of the APPG, in finally getting leasehold reform onto the government’s agenda.
Both Srikant Alla and Anjit Vats leaseholders at Citiscape gave a most moving account of the fear and stress the cladding issues had caused them. They made all in the room realise that behind all the facts, figures and reports real people are having their lives upturned.
They were rightly full-some in their praise for LKP who they turned to in their time of need.
Nigel Howell gave a most thoughtful speech (that at times even bordered on sincerity) concerning the safety of his “customers” at Citiscape after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.. He outlined the immediate steps he and Firstport had taken to ensure “customers” safety.
He explained the reason as to why Firstport went to the FTT to establish who ultimately would be responsible for paying for replacement cladding. Apparently, this was “in the leaseholders interests” Whilst of course it may be argued that as a managing agent they were doing more than could be reasonably expected, Mr Howell chose to ignore mentioning the Firstport responsibility arising from being connected to the lease.
Praise was rightly given to Barratt’s who by agreeing to pay for the cladding replacement saved both the leaseholders, freeholders and landlord (Firstport) from having to pay and face potential bankruptcy.
Due to lack of time presumably Mr Howell chose not to talk about the fatal Gibson Court fire for which Firstport received a record fine for Health & Safety breaches only a few weeks ago. It is believed in total it cost Firstport around £600,000 (a figure that could have been doubled if they had not entered a guilty plea.)
Mr Howell made mention of being the largest managing agents in the UK and complying with the standards of RICS/ARMA and ARHM. He was concerned about smaller companies not complying with those standards. Of course “complying with those standards” did not prevent his company systemically price fixing at least 65 retirement developments?
I am not sure Mr Howell was particularly pleased to see me.
Certainly, he did not look best pleased when at the end of the meeting I gave him a copy of my service charge demand I told him I had paid it but it was issued in the name of the wrong freeholder and Firstport Property Services were using the wrong company number.
I explained to him that FirstPort had refused point blank to issue a correct service charge demand, which is all that I required? I have asked him as CEO.of Firstport to sort it out?
I will keep you posted (and by the way if you are reading this Mr Howell, it will not just be me that received an invalid service charge demand don’t forget the other 73 leaseholders on my development?)
Mr Howell’s speech is reported in full here:
“Bordered on sincerity”, like that a lot. Mr Howell sounds like Hughie Green, “I mean that most sincerely folks”.
I promised I would keep you posted so here goes. We left off at the point I gave Mr Howell a copy of my service charge demand which had been issued in the name of the wrong freeholder and Firstport using the wrong company number. all i had asked for remember, is simply a service charge demand in the name of the correct freeholder and for Firstport to use the correct company number.
So I have had a reply. It was due to an administrative error that the wrong freeholder was given as Estates & Management are in the process of changing many development freeholders.
This suggests that a whole host of Tchenguiz freeholds are being sold off to pay down debt
The use of the wrong company number is ascribed to a merging of Firstport Retirement and Firstport Property Services operations, so that Firstport Retirement are trading as Firstport Property Services .
Unfortunately for that explanation, the number ascribed to Firstport Property Services is actually the number of Firstport Bespoke Property Services. (nothing to do with Firstport Retirement!)
So we now have a situation where a service charge demand has been issued with the wrong freeholder, the wrong company number not declaring a company was a trading name and to cap it all confusing the name of the company in an apology! Firstport went on to to state that future service charge demands would be accurate.(I want the current one to be accurate!) I have been referred to the Ombudsman(Property)Services should I so wish?
The problem with that though, is that the Ombudsman (Property) Services have announced that are shortly to cease acting in the property market, so by the time any claim is processed they will no longer be active in the property market! To Be Continued!
Update on the update! I will shortly be receiving a correct service charge demand from Firstport. Thank you for intervening Mr Howell
So, Mr Howell, let me see if I got this right? Firstport manage Citiscape because the freeholder (The Tchenguiz Family Trust) appointed Firstport(who at the time were part of the Tchenguiz group) as managing agents and made a Firstport connected company part of a tri-partite lease which effectively makes it nigh on impossible for leaseholders to sack the for poor service and extraordinarily high charges..
You refer to leaseholders as “Customers” How can that be, if it is not the leaseholders that appoint you? Surely the term “customer”applies to the Tchenguiz Family Trust or even you given that in reality you have appointed yourself as managing agent? I thank LKP for the explanation that Firstport is party to the Cityscape lease. I was wondering how Firstport came by the management contract? After all it had previously been reported that Barratt had sacked Firstport from managing at their developments (presumably that could only apply to developments where Firstport had not been enmeshed into the lease? I understand Berkeley Homes and McCarthy & Stone took similar action.
As a matter of interest and in the spirit of openness and transparency Mr Howell, I wonder if you would care to give the number of development contracts you hold solely due to the previous company connection with the Tchenguiz Family Trust and being part of a tri-partite lease? When leasehold law changes and these types of appointments are either banned or limited to an initial two years and crucially, without rancour leaseholders are given an automatic right to appoint the managing agent of their choice how many developments will remain under Firstport’s management?