LKP has ceased all connection with the Federation of Private Residents Associations after it announced that it had appointed controversial ex-chair of LEASE Roger Southam as an “esteemed honorary consultant”.
Mr Southam, a leasehold managing agent, was encouraged to retire as chairman of the Leasehold Advisory Service after concerns were raised in the Commons by both Sir Peter Bottomley and Justin Madders, who are also both patrons of LKP.
He resigned suddenly as chair of the quango without explanation in April 2018, and he appeared to have relocated to the Cayman Islands.
The appointment of Mr Southam to the position of “honorary consultant” of FoPRA is abhorred by LKP, the National Leasehold Campaign and many leaseholders.
Today Martin Boyd, LKP chair and chair of the enfranchised 240-flat Charter Quay site in Kingston, Surrey, resigned from FoPRA, where he has also served as an honorary consultant, in protest at the appointment of Mr Southam.
Sir Peter Bottomley has written to inform FoPRA chair Bob Smytherman, who made the decision to appoint Mr Southam:
“In my informed opinion, this is not appropriate.”
The appointment of Mr Southam is also resented within FoPRA, which is an organisation that purports to represent the interests of leaseholders in residents’ bodies, including residents’ management companies and right to manage companies.
The issue is to be discussed by the directors on Wednesday.
Shula Rich, a veteran campaigner for leasehold reform and one of five FoPRA directors, is appalled by the appointment of Mr Southam, and other controversial commercial players in the leasehold sector who have represented the federation.
She has told Mr Smytherman:
“There is a question of ethics for FoPRA in featuring individuals and organisations who are working against leaseholders’ interests even though they are ‘helpful to leaseholders’.”
She also widened her criticism to other controversial practitioners in the sector who have represented FoPRA, such as solicitor Cassandra Zanelli, a current FoPRA “honorary consultant”, and online property guru Bernie Wales.
Ms Rich continued:
“If we use people such as Southam, [Cassandra] Zanelli, [Bernie] Wales etc. They use it to legitimise themselves in leaseholder circles. That’s why they ‘volunteer’.
“As a genuine volunteer I’m then working for them. So the objection to allowing them to be associated with us is (1) we legitimise them; and (2) I’m giving my volunteer time for them.”
Cassandra Zanelli wrote to LKP threatening potential defamation action prior to the publication of an article that exposed the practices of Martin Paine, who we understand is still a major client. Sir Peter Bottomley has described Mr Paine as a “crook” in the House of Commons who has “turned the slease of leasehold into an art form”.
We were also critical of her evidence to the Welsh Assembly in November 2018:
LKP has written about Bernie Wales in May 2017 here:
Martin Boyd resignation letter to FoPRA chair Bob Smytherman
It is with considerable regret that, after 6 years working with yourselves, I have decided to stand down as an honorary consultant of FoPRA.
1) I have always been uneasy at the appointment of some of the other honorary consultants, who have a demonstrable track record opposed to the interests of leaseholders. You will recall that FoPRA had to disassociate itself from Ms [Cassandra] Zanelli’s oral submission on FoPRA’s behalf to the Welsh Assembly. She wrongly claimed that cladding problems could be paid for by leaseholders from reserve funds or loans. We also have concerns regarding her approach in other cases and in particular when she threatened potential defamation action against LKP for exposing the notorious Martin Paine, who has exploited many poorer leaseholders with his highly aggressive variations to leases.
Now FoPRA has suddenly chosen to appoint Roger Southam. Sir Peter Bottomley MP has already exchanged emails with Bob expressing his concern regarding this matter. Following Bob’s response to Sir Peter, attempting to justifying the appointment, Peter gave a very brief response as follows:
“In my informed opinion, this is not appropriate.”
We have, of course, exposed a number of Roger’s anti-leaseholder practices in the past. His boast that he helped developers maximise ground rents; his taking of inappropriate insurance commissions; embedding his own company through tripartite leases as the management company of sites in perpetuity. We had other concerns, but after Roger suddenly resigned as LEASE chair and then left for the Cayman Islands, it did not seem relevant to discuss them publicly any further.
Bob is aware that I was very uneasy with Roger, when LEASE chair, writing articles for the FoPRA newsletter that went against the interests of leaseholders or disparaged commonhold without any editorial review or opportunity for a counter opinion.
Three further articles in the latest FoPRA newsletter worry me:
a) There was an article reproducing the MHCLG press release which claimed that there is no longer a need for an EWS in under-18m buildings. Given our work in this area over the past four years, and having led all the meetings in Parliament on this subject, it is disappointing that nobody bothered to check this with me. You should be aware that the MHCLG press release is now disputed as wrong by a number of experts in the sector and will need correction in the next newsletter.
b) The article by Bernie Wales regarding the CMA investigation into leasehold mis-selling and onerous ground rent terms is incomplete. The board should be fully aware that this project came out of work by LKP and the National Leasehold Campaign over many years. Why on earth would FoPRA go to Mr Wales for comment on this subject when he has no role in it? Instead of sitting on the side of the consumer, he offers advice to developers on title splitting as a way to increase developer profits using what he calls his “shaving-foam technique”. Again he is someone who has argued against commonhold.
c) The Mark Chick article is also wrong. His speculation about other developers and landlords being unlikely to follow Persimmon is obviously now superseded by events. At the Leasehold and Commonhold APPG which we ran last week (September 16th), the CMA Litigation Director explained that Countryside Properties plc has now also agreed to rectify their onerous terms, and that cases against two other large developers are ongoing. The CMA has again made clear they will litigate against those developers if no settlement is agreed:
3) There were a number of complaints, some public, about the use of the term “virtual freehold” in a webinar by LEASE for FoPRA members. This deceitful and misleading term has been criticised by both the CMA and the Advertising Standards Authority. We are told the FoPRA board decided not to make clear that this phrase is often used to mislead consumers, and was wrongly used. The request for correction by NLC has been ignored.
4) FoPRA has endorsed tweets that are anti-consumer. In particular, highlighting the article by FoPRA committee member Marie-Anne Bowering [managing director of property manager Ringley Group], advancing the landlords’ standard arguments against a move to a peppercorn ground rent and the alleged potential drawbacks of commonhold.
5) FoPRA caused great concern among the cladding groups by choosing to become a member of the working group to implement the Fire Safety Act, at a time when all the cladding groups and many MPs and Lords were campaigning against the introduction of this bill.
I have tried to raise some of these issues in private in the past, but feel the need to comment publicly. I accept that FoPRA’s position is that it is not a campaigning organisation. However, sometimes FoPRA has effectively endorsed the status quo by not speaking, or by choosing to endorse government initiatives which leaseholder groups oppose. FoPRA has also appointed honorary consultants who sometimes work against leaseholder interests. I hope you will understand why I can’t endorse FoPRA’s position as regards the points set out above, given our charity’s objective of helping consumers. The fact that the views of the cladding groups, the NLC and a co-chair of the APPG for which we act as secretariat, have also been ignored adds to my concerns.
I remind you it was only recently that Bob argued that you did not want to appoint further consultants until FoPRA updates its constitution at the AGM. That policy seems to have gone South (ham).
It has been a pleasure to work with FoPRA over the last 6 years as a committee member and honorary consultant.
Chair of Trustees, Leasehold Knowledge Partnership
Secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold Reform