Sir Peter Bottomley MP (right) held a meeting yesterday at his Westminster offices with the freeholder and managing agent who are locked in right to manage disputes with leaseholders at two Plymouth retirement developments.
The meeting was an informal exchange of views between freeholder Israel Moskovitz, property manager Joseph Gurvits and Sebastian O’Kelly and Martin Boyd of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership. The meeting was also attended by Sophie Hutchinson, parliamentary research assistant of Oliver Colvile, the pensioners’ MP, and Elena Andreadis, property manager for the sites.
Earlier this month Elim Court lost its third attempt at exercising its right to manage against Mr Moskovitz’s Avon Freeholds at the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal owing to errors in the paperwork. Regent Court obtained right to manage in February last year, but the issue is being appealed at the Land Tribunal in April.
An additional cause for ill-feeling at Regent Court is that the roof was irreparably damaged in a storm in April 2012, but was found to be at the end of its practical life and therefore not covered under the insurance.
The insurance company, AXA, did offer to pay 50 per cent of the repair at one point and then decided that nothing was owed.
As a result, all the residents – bar the estates of three – paid up £140,000 on January 25.
Sir Peter Bottomley, who named Joseph Gurvits in the Commons on January 23, made it clear that the issues surrounding the two sites were not going to disappear from public view and that it would be better all round if they were resolved.
In particular, he was of the view that if leaseholders want right to manage, organise for it and presented their case they should not be frustrated by legal quibbling at the LVT. “The fact that that can be done does not make it right,” he said.
He was aware of a number of complaints from leaseholders in different properties around London managed by the Gurvits family’s Eagerstates “and they did not make good reading”.
Sir Peter said that he was aware of 40-odd MPs with an interest in leasehold who could be relied upon to take leasehold issues up. He also indicated that he would speak out publicly against those who play the system against leaseholders.
Regent and Elim Courts had been raised with the Housing Minister Mark Prisk, and Oliver Colvile, the local MP, who is visiting the sites tomorrow.
Both Regent and Elim Court right to manage actions have been opposed by barristers employed by Mr Moskovitz. His costs for fighting the Elim case total £12,688, which Elena Andreadis sent to residents on January 16.
Mr Moskovitz indicated that similar costs were involved disputing the RTM at Regent Court.
Mr Moskovitz said that he had to protect his “reversionary interest” – the freehold, its income and it eventually owning the whole building in 70 years time – and so opposed right to manage. He subsequently indicated that he had no objection in principle to the pensioners obtaining right to manage.
Both he and Mr Gurvits were indignant that the right to manage actions at both sites had been instigated, they believed, by the Right To Manage Federation, an RTM agency that levies a fee from the newly appointed incoming managing agent. They appeared to view the organisation as simply a commercial rival.
They also believed – wrongly – that Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation had some connection with the RTMF and its proprietor, Dudley Joiner, which is not the case. Mr Joiner and Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation did organise several meetings more than two years ago, but the connection ended.
Mr Moskovitz and Mr Gurvits also criticised the coverage of Elim and Regent Courts on the Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation websites, which they believed were “too personal”.
Mr Moskovitz said that he would be happy to sell the freehold, but estimated its value at more than £300,000 and doubted whether the pensioners would be able to afford it. [He is understood to have bought the freehold two years for circa £180,000.]
Mr Moskovitz made clear that he employed Mr Gurvits in Y and Y Management, but had no involvement with Eagerstates, a property management company familiar to London leaseholders run, Mr Gurvits explained, by his wife, Esther.
Mr Moskovitz emphasised that he was a man of moral integrity, who was involved in charities and had not wrongly taken any money from the pensioners. They had been treated with scrupulous honesty and Elena Aleandris, of Y and Y Management, was an excellent and conscientious property manager.
Miss Aleandris, a former solicitor, believed that pensioners at the site had been “harassed” into signing up for the right to manage actions, with peer group pressure and RTM canvassers knocking on residents’ doors. She said eight residents at Elim Court had changed their minds about right to mange.
She visited the sites four times a year and was deeply concerned with the pensioners’ welfare, she said.
Mr Moskovits would contact the insurance company AXA to allow Mr Colvile to discover why it declined to pay out on the roof at Regent Court. At one point last summer it did offer to pay 50 per cent of the replacement roof, and then decided that nothing was owed because the roof’s condition meant it was at the end of its useful life.
But the prospect of the right to manage actions being resolved without further expensive litigation became less likely yesterday following a residents’ meeting at Elim Court.
The residents, who were addressed by Mr Joiner, of the Right To Manage Federation, resolved to appeal the right to manage defeat of January. His hope is to have both the Elim and Regent Court appeals held at the same time in April.
Mr Joiner has repeatedly told the residents – and Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation – that the legal costs involved in these actions will be borne by his organisation.
However, the legal liability remains that of the leaseholders.
Mr Moskovitz estimated his costs against the Regent Court RTM are only slightly lower than those of Elim. If both issues go to the Land Tribunal Mr Moskovitz’s estimate of costs will almost certainly exceed £30,000.
Mr Colvile is meeting residents at Elim and Regent Court tomorrow where he will be told that there is overwhelming support for right to manage at both sites.
The residents also propose to ask whether Mr Colvile, as their MP, will approach the Bar Council pro bono unit to provide a barrister at no cost.