A leaseholder in north London today has written to Housing Minister Brandon Lewis saying that the appointment of Roger Southam as chairman of LEASE creates a “serious conflict of interest”.
Agnes Kory, who copied her email in to MPs Glenda Jackson MP and Sir Peter Bottomley, as well as the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, lives at the Frognal Estate, in Hampstead, where Mr Southam is described as “in charge of the management”.
Today Mr Southam says he has notified the First Tier Tribunal of his resignation of the management of the estate and made a statement to LKP (below) in response . It clarifies his position and rejects the criticism of Ms Kory.
Ms Kory claims that leaseholders had “deep concerns about his treatment of the Estate”. It is not known whether the estate is managed by Mr Southam’s property management company, Chainbow.
“In cases of litigation against leaseholders (by Roger Southam), LEASE would have been the body to assist with legal advice.
“However, with Roger Southam’s appointment to the top of LEASE, such legal advice is unlikely.
“Roger Southam’s powerful personality and single-minded pursuit of his goals is likely to result in LEASE employee’s inability to provide unbiased legal advice when Roger Southam is litigating against leaseholders.”
Sir Peter Bottomley has asked the minister to see the “substantive response” to Ms Kory. Mr Southam was appointed LEASE chair for a five year term on January 1.
Reply from Roger Southam
It is unfortunate Ms Kory has thought it appropriate to write in this vain. I was appointed manager of an estate in Finchley Road at which she resides. The Estate has been decaying for 40 years and the structure of the building is in very poor condition.
My company has worked tirelessly since 2011 to move the estate forward and we have just come to the end of major works which sees the start of the estate to move forward.
Ms Kory is incorrect in her assessment and we have a majority of the leaseholders who are happy. We have already arranged retendering and today the management of the building has passed to new agents and I have sent in my resignation to the FTT as appointed manager. We have been retendering over the last 2 months as the leaseholders knew.
Chainbow is not a traditional block manager anymore and hasn’t been for the last 3 years We do more consultancy and advisory work as is demonstrated by our website.
I publicly state that I would never and will never do anything to cause conflict of interest or impact on the much needed work of LEASE.
It is regrettable that Ms Kory also saw fit to send me an abusive email today that I am deeply offended by and is extremely offensive.
LKP has no belief that the solicitors and other advisors at the Leasehold Advisory Service would give biased advice because its chairman is a property manager.
Leaving aside Mr Southam’s feelings, that is offensive to the LEASE staff.
On the other hand, it cannot be said that Ms Kory’s complaint comes as a surprise.
There were bound to be concerns raised about the appointment to the LEASE chair of a large-scale, practising property manager, accountable and employed by a number of different freeholders.
To his credit, Mr Southam is one of the few leasehold professionals who has publicly spoken out against abuses in the sector, albeit some years ago. Our interview with him gives insight into his general views here
But Ms Kory does raise an important question: should someone closely involved in commercial activity in this controversial corner of residential property be the chair of the government quango that sits awkwardly within it?
And should he be joined on the board of LEASE by a raft of other commercial practitioners without one single, identifiable individual representing the leaseholder interest?
This month’s appointment to the board of Margaret Longden, an executive in Countrywide, was particularly unfortunate: Countrywide being accused of “ripping off” Swindon leaseholders in the Commons, and dumped nationwide by Bovis Homes.
LKP has criticised the corrosive effect of commercial activities by the Leasehold Advisory Service: the annual conference trade show, advertising / endorsements in the professional directory and so on.
In fact, this is not the fault of LEASE. Its paymasters in the DCLG have insisted on this in order to balance the books.
Our criticisms have mellowed slightly as we have accepted – grudgingly – the very narrow role that the Leasehold Advisory Service has repeatedly defined for itself: that it is there to provide free legal advice on leasehold law to all comers.
It is not there solely or even primarily to help leaseholders (although that was almost certainly what MPs intended), to ensure fairness, to raise standards or promote reform.
LEASE is there to advise on the law. Including, say, forfeiture, which can render leaseholders homeless and destitute, and bring freeholders a huge windfall. As at Plantation Wharf
Fine. For that limited role it does not need much of a budget, nor to engage in commercial enterprises.
Above all, it can stay out of the way of those of us who do care about fairness, standards and reform. And who believe that forfeiture of assets and equity above and beyond the debt incurred is incomprehensible and indefensible.
But a substantial majority of owners asked the LVT to remove their appointed manager and replace him with Mr Southam. He as an appointee employs a unrelated managing agent. It is churlish to respond in the fashion that you have as the average reader would reasonably conclude, contrary to his earlier reply to you, that the company is still a block manager and working for freeholders in that capacity, and, therefore, all that that is believed to entail. Don’t slip the route of the Daily Mail please.
I do not know the circumstances of the Frognal Estate, or Mr Southam’s former involvement in it.
But as I understand it, Chainbow is still a block manager and says it is on its website in capital letters:
We welcome Roger’s appointment, and I am unsure what we have done that is Daily Mail-ish.
It is not spitting in church to appoint a chairman and directors of LEASE who are complete outsiders to leasehold management, with no entanglements in the sector at all.
Roger is aware of our views and I had hoped the above comment was nuanced and fair.
As soon as this issue came in, I contacted him and, to his credit, he chose to address it.
Yours, Sebastian O’Kelly
Following a request by leaseholders, Roger Southam was appointed by the Tribunal on the 22nd November 2011 as the Appointed Manager for the Frognal Estate, London NW3 5HN.
On the same day as the article published by Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, Roger Southam suffered an outrageous personal attack via email from Ms Kory and, as a result of this attack and the compound effect of other unsubstantiated professional attacks, Roger Southam immediately tended his resignation as Appointed Manager to the FtT.
In addition to the above, the article reports that Ms Kory has also attempted to publicly discredit both LEASE and Roger Southam professionally. Ms Kory’s position is without substance and represents a minority view of leaseholders at the Frognal Estate.
We feel it is a grave injustice that an outrageous act from one leaseholder (out of 55 units at the site) should result in the Frognal Estate losing Roger Southam as Appointed Manager. We do, however, understand Roger Southam’s decision to resign as Appointed Manager given the personal and professional slander targeted at him and his staff.
Further to comments to the 26th January 2015 article please allow me to clarify that
1. I have no doubt of the integrity of LEASE staff – which I myself experienced – hence I did not attempt to discredit them. However, how could a LEASE employee advise in cases when one party of the litigation is LEASE’s chairman?
2. I have written evidence that leaseholders of at least twenty-one Frognal Estate units have been unhappy with Mr Southam’s management. Surely this is not an insignificant number.
3. My ‘outrageous act’ of an ‘abusive email’ has been misinterpreted. While I am truly sorry that I caused offense and hurt, my motive was to report that Mr Southam’s handling of disputes gave me painful and unsettling nightmares.