What is the Property Tribunal doing to protect its own appointed manager?
West India Quay: £10 million ‘unaccounted for over six years’
The poisonous dispute at the upmarket site Canary Riverside, part of Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands, was raised by LKP patron Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse.
He accused John Christodoulou and David Marsden of activities that are “little short of harassment” of the leaseholders in a series of legal actions.
In September the leaseholders won a lower tribunal ruling to have a court appointed managing agent. It was confirmed in the Upper Tribunal, and leave to appeal was refused.
In October, the court-appointed managing agent Alan Coates won an injunction against John Christodoulou’s companies ordering them to co-operate with the hand-over.
Now John Christodoulou is seeking a judicial review into the tribunal decisions.
Earlier this year, David Marsden, then employed by Charles Russell Speechlys solicitors rather than, as now, with Trowers and Hamlins, wrote to more than 100 members of the residents’ association threatening defamation proceedings.
He demanded a retraction of criticisms of the management of Canary Riverside, a published apology to be vetted by John Christodoulou and “our client’s rights as to damages are reserved fully even should the above be provided”.
The defamation claim was referenced at the Upper Tribunal hearing on September 30, which was attended by 40 Canary Riverside leaseholders.
The following from Jim Fitzpatrick’s speech yesterday:
… I have tried to help residents on two large sites in my constituency, Canary Riverside and West India Quay.
Both are controlled by a gentleman—well, I would rather say a person—called John Christodoulou, under the Yianis group. LKP has been very involved in assisting the residents.
Both sites have tried to work constructively with the landlord’s managing agents over many years, but have suffered from very poor management. Both had not had accounts for years, regardless of what the legislation may say is required. Only when the Canary Riverside site took its latest action through the tribunal process, to replace the landlord’s agent through fault, did the accounts emerge, and what they showed was a far from pretty picture.
In the decision, the tribunal was highly critical of many aspects of the landlord’s management, including the fact that it had not had a professional planned maintenance programme and then, having obtained one, had failed to implement it.
Since the court’s appointment of a new manager, which began in October this year, the landlord’s solicitor, a Mr David Marsden of Trowers and Hamlins, appears to have bombarded the court-appointed manager with a huge number of emails: 22 in October, 29 in November, and 37 so far this month.
It strikes me as very important that when the landlord’s management is removed through fault, as happened in this case, the tribunal should act to protect the court-appointed manager from what appears to be little short of harassment.
The residents at Canary Riverside wrote to me yesterday, saying:
In addition to bombarding our Tribunal-appointed Manager with emails, the Manager is being ground down by the continuous litigation being brought by the landlord in an attempt to undermine the FTT’s — first-tier tribunal’s —decision and frustrate the new management.
There is a real risk that Canary riverside lessees could find themselves in a worse position than if we had never taken the Section 24 action: i.e., back under the management of a landlord who knows the law does not protect lessees in large mixed-use developments.
The FTT-appointed Manager is increasingly finding himself in an untenable position, forced to spend more time dealing with the landlord’s demands and injunctions than resolving the estate management issues he was appointed to remedy.
Section 24 appears only to work if the landlord agrees, even if a decision is unequivocally in lessees’ favour.
Christodoulou is currently seeking a Judicial Review in an attempt to undo the FTT’s decision (having had three appeals fail at the FTT and Upper Tribunal).
He is also taking every opportunity to apply to the High Court to chip away at the Manager’s powers. On Friday he obtained an injunction that effectively granted him and his staff unfettered access to the Canary Riverside estate. An estate he no longer manages.
The lessees at Canary Riverside spent over two years securing the FTT’s decision—at a considerable cost, both financially and in respect of the time and energy needed to pursue legal action. It has been a huge endeavour.
But it seems the…hearing was just the beginning of our legal battle. The landlord’s fees were £335,000 for the FTT hearing. Since then there have been three appeals, a Judicial Review pending, and several High Court injunction hearings. Legal fees could easily top £500,000, and our (billionaire) landlord knows that the more legal resources he throws at winning, the more likely he is to win.
Section 24 — and I say this to the Minister— is not fit for purpose, and we— the residents— will end up over £500,000 poorer — half a million pounds worse off— and with nowhere else to turn.
None of this impacts the value of Christodoulou’s investment—the only people damaged by poor estate management and high service charges is the lessees.
I should welcome the Minister’s comments on that.
Over at West India Quay, Christmas Eve will mark a new and dismal milestone: the sixth year of accounts will become overdue.
The residents have had none since 2010, and more than £10 million of their cash is unaccounted for. In its 14 years of occupation, their building has never been subject to a planned preventive maintenance report.
I ask the Minister, “How can that be allowed?”
In fact, it can be allowed because there is no enforcement action for the residents to try to ensure that the property managing agents and owners do something about it.
Those are two examples of the problems faced by residents who are up against powerful, uncaring and unscrupulous landlords.
The full debate can be seen here at 13.19: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/fc53bd87-8abf-4986-b7ce-6a7a488b8cfc