By Harry Scoffin
One of the best aspects of the Communities Select Committee’s excellent report into the broken leasehold system, was that Conservative MPs ended up as vehemently opposed to it as Labour ones.
Last month Bob Blackman, Tory MP for Harrow East, secured another mini victory at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Theresa May committed to “peppercorn” ground rents, which as nearly everyone knows is zero financial value.
Unfortunately, among those who are a bit hazy on what peppercorn actually means are government minsters. Perhaps even the prime minister.
Nonetheless, it is good that she was referencing peppercorn ground rents rather than the £10 nominal ground rents talked up by DCLG ministers.
Heather Wheeler, a housing minister, seems to have a fairly elastic view of what peppercorn means, even though Philip Rainey QC has taken the trouble to tell government in clear terms that it means: no monetary value.
Bob Blackman has also been a critic of his government’s endorsement of the developers’ and freeholders’ code of practice.
This bit of PR flannel was dreamed up by the Home Builders Federation some years back, and went nowhere under Sajid Javid, when he was Communities Secretary.
Mr Blackman told the prime minister on April 10 that the leasehold market was “broken” and asked:
“Does my right honourable friend agree with me that we cannot rely on voluntary codes to set this right and that we need legislation in this house to restore fairness to the housing market?”
The prime minister referred to the work by Lord Best to look at regulating and professionalising managing agents.
Mrs May also suggested that the government was investigating whether house lessees should be given the Right of First Refusal that flat lessees currently enjoy. Of course, there was no mention of how developers already circumvent this clause in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 through a transfer of shares, rather than a transfer of the property.
She also conceded that “my honourable friend is absolutely right. If we believe that a market is not working properly, then we should act to deal with that.”
Mr Blackman has since doubled down on his PMQs intervention in comments to the Parliamentary Review:
“Voluntary codes cannot be relied upon and therefore I call on the government to legislate to protect leaseholders and to restore fairness.”
All very encouraging.