By Harry Scoffin
Justin Madders MP, joint patron of LKP, paid tribute to our former trustee Louie Burns in the Commons last week.
“He had a formidable intellect and a passion for justice that always saw him stick up for the leaseholder,” said Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, who is also the joint chair of the APPG on leasehold and commonhold reform along with Sir Peter Bottomley.
Louie Burns, the CEO of Leasehold Solutions, only worked for leaseholders in dealing with leasehold enfranchisement: the purchase of the freehold and lease extensions. He died suddenly last month at the age of 54.
He was praised by the Labour politician a day after the government’s legal advisors came out for commonhold, a form of freehold ownership for flats championed by Mr Burns and used successfully in most other countries, but resisted by the housebuilders’ lobby in England and Wales.
Mr Madders said Louie was “a rare beast” and a professional engaged in the law with a “conscience”. “I say that as someone who considered himself such a person before entering this place. He was the best of us,” said Mr Madders.
Speaking to LKP, Katie Kendrick, co-founder of the National Leasehold Campaign and also trustee of this charity, said:
“Last week was a momentous week for leaseholders. It was perfectly timed that my MP Justin Madders used his final speech before summer recess to pay tribute to leasehold legend Louie Burns as Louie was instrumental to the Law Commission proposals that will improve millions of people’s lives.
“It made me smile and I know Louie would be smiling too; when Justin referred to him as a ‘lawyer with a conscience’. Louie wasn’t actually a lawyer, but was more respected and more influential than many of these people who advise freeholders and stymie reform. Louie knew more about leasehold law, its history and its destination of travel than most. Louie was very proud of the fact that the only qualification he had was swimming 100 meters. His ultimate goal in life was to abolish leasehold.”
“We must ensure that when parliament reopens in September, leasehold continues to be at the top of the political agenda. Louie shared so much of his knowledge with us, we will use it how Louie would want us to,” she added.
24 hours before Mr Burns died, he published his last written blog, which ended:
“The writing is on the wall for this feudal unfair system and the only question remaining around its abolition is when, not if.”
“Thus, our system of landed property is a structure of the most complex and heterogenous kind …. That within the special studies of the legal profession, the study of them is a specialism in itself. Among accomplished lawyers, the number who are well versed in real law (leasehold) is but small.
The Law Commission’s three voluminous reports on creating “fit-for-purpose home ownership” had extensive input from Louie Burns and the late Professor James Driscoll, the former tribunal judge and commonhold expert who also served as an LKP trustee.
Their contributions were mentioned in every report:
“Finally, we would like to acknowledge here the assistance of Louie Burns and Professor James Driscoll, both of whom were members of advisory groups associated with our projects on residential leasehold and commonhold, and who sadly died prior to publication of this Report.”
In the Commons, Mr Madders suggested the Law Commission’s programme for de facto abolition of leasehold would have met the approval of Mr Burns, who was an authority on copyhold and its mutation into leasehold:
“I am sure Louie would have been pleased to see yesterday’s report from the Law Commission on reforming leasehold, which has been long awaited and at last recognises the fundamental unfairness and problems with the system.”
Mr Madders said that the government has a responsibility to enact the recommendations in full, and without further delay. It must face down those “who wish to protect freeholders’ interests”, he said.
“I really hope that time is now up for the unfair, exploitative and outdated system of ownership that is leasehold,” he concluded.
In an interview with The Independent in 2018, Mr Burns said “it shames us as a nation that this feudal iniquitous system is still thriving in the 21st century when the rest of the world have rid themselves from it”.
“Recently we have seen an erroneous narrative being propagated that freeholders are some sort of noble ‘custodians of the building’ they own and they serve some valuable service to the leaseholders. Nothing could be further from the truth. Freeholders are simply an asset class who find themselves owners of the building by some odd idiosyncrasy of a feudal system. They own the buildings to make as much money as they possibly can from them.”