Alex Ellison deserves to be congratulated for feeling something was amiss when Peverel began offering the prospect of selling the house manager’s flat at Mere Court.
She did well to uncover the fact that the flat did, in fact, belong to Peverel, and not the freeholder, Tchenguiz. This was contrary to what the regional and area managers were repeatedly telling residents.
The Peverel ruling is that the “field staff would not necessarily be aware of these arrangements”; ie the correct ownership of the flats.
That is certainly possible, given the entwined business relationship between Peverel and Tchenguiz, which continues.
A far more important question is: why does this flat belong to Peverel?
Did it purchase it, and from whom?
Why has a communal asset, for which there was no separate lease when Mere Court was built in 20 years ago, ended up in the hands of the property manager in 2009?
And why was the Royal Bank of Scotland issuing a loan against this asset – and hundreds like it – on March 12 2012?
It seems that at Mere Court a garage also has a lease issued to Peverel in 2009.
If these communal assets, for whose maintenance and upkeep the residents have paid, can be sold off, what about others: the drive, the gardens, the steps up to the front door?
Is it right that the freeholds of retirement sites are mined like this for value and flogged off?
And what is the effect on the residents’ leases, especially when they come to sell? If a lease includes reference to an in-house manager and obligations to maintain her flat, what is the precise legal position if that flat has been sold?
Peter Whalley, a senior Peverel regional manager who left the company’s employ this month, frankly discussed the issue with a leaseholder at Ash Court on October 31 2013.
“Should the house manager’s apartment be sold, the general apartment leases will not be changed. The existing leases of the house manager’s apartment are surrendered, the finance security is released, and a new lease is granted out of the freehold title in a similar form to the general apartment leases.
“In doing this, both the landlord and Peverel accept that there is a commercial risk that doing this could be successfully challenged.
“To date, there had been no such challenge.
“If there was a successful challenge, Peverel or the landlord would have to purchase suitable accommodation and re-instate a resident house manager.”
Finally, it should be added that the issue is not confined to the Peverel/Tchenguiz interests.
Flogging off the house managers’ flats has become the monetising plat du jour in the retirement sector: “charitable” housing associations are also capable of doing the same.
But residents should not be going along with it … and certainly not for a trifling £10,000 into the contingency fund.