Southwark Borough Council is to spend £350 million to improve its housing stock over the next 10 years to address climate change and there is a fair chance leaseholders will be paying for some of it.
That was the bleak message to more than 400 primarily local authority leaseholders, who met in William Booth College of the Salvation Army at Southwark on March 7.
Actually, the message was a little worse than that. Despite a well polished, PR-friendly address from a Southwark Borough Council official – with heavy emphasis on the importance of “communication” – the council is withdrawing financial support for the www.southwarkhomeowners.co.uk group.
This has the result that the council will be unburdened of “communication” with conferences such as this one.
This website has been designed and commissioned by the membership of the Homeowner Council, to act as a resource and central information hub for Southwark leaseholders, and homeowners. There are a number of diﬀerent resources and organisations within Southwark, providing diﬀerent services to leaseholders, tenants, and homeowners,…
As it happened, the official was the only Southwark attendee, as councillors stayed away owing to illness, although the conference was addressed by Helen Hayes, the Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood.
She was also a member of the Communities Select Committee, who produced a brilliant report into the selling of leasehold houses and properties with highly aggressive ground rents.
Assuming the country is not utterly bankrupt post-coronavirus, Southwark council intends to spend the money on communal boilers, alternative power sources, reducing dependence on gas, retrofitted sprinklers and fire doors, among other things.
Southwark Homeowners Conference: Top council officer apologies for district heating woes – Southwark News
Katherine Johnston Housing cabinet member, Cllr Kieron Williams, was unable to attend on the day A top housing director from Southwark Council stepped in to apologise to residents beset by heating problems at last weekend’s Homeowners Council conference – but was left unable to answer for the cabinet’s ‘political decision’ to pursue legal action over major works disputes.
They also intend to build another 12,000 homes in the borough, many on existing estates.
Inevitably, “these investment decisions will have an effect on people’s homes”.
“We are here to talk to you about how you could deal with these very high bills that you may face.”
Martin Boyd, the LKP chair who chaired the conference, referenced the unfortunate property tribunal victory by leaseholders in Wandsworth, in south west London, who successfully denied the council access to their flats to retrofit sprinklers.
The case is here:
It may have saved them money – to date – but also ensured that the blocks were less safe than they could have been.
Paying for communal water heating in Southwark is controversial, not only on grounds of cost, but also efficiency. A sea of hands were raised when the audience was asked whether there were issues with communal systems.
Here is an example of litigation over the issue:
The Southwark official also announced that major works schemes will no longer be subject to a long-term maintenance contract with Mears, but handled in-house.
Long-term maintenance contracts have been abused.
Sebastian O’Kelly, CEO of Leasehold Knowledge, referenced the not infrequent cases of corruption in council housing maintenance, with the Exeter housing chief being jailed as a result:
Separately, Southwark council claimed that it did encourage all leaseholders to extend their leases and contacts leaseholders before they run down to 80 years. The leases have £10 ground rents, like other local authority leases (for no good reason).
Helen Hayes MP made a speech that was a resume of the findings of the Communities Select Committee on which she served.
She urged reform of “feudal” leasehold, deprecated ground rents and expressed the view that these income streams explained why commonhold had not taken off.
She said that Florrie’s Law which capped section 20 major works costs for leaseholders should have had wider application: at present it is restricted to central government funding, and easily worked around by councils who have not been reticent passing costs to leaseholders.
Attendees were told they would not benefit from the Competition and Markets Authority’s work. National Leasehold Campaign’s Cath Williams added that the three major Law Commission reforms will also do very little to help local authority leaseholders. Government’s long-awaited proposals to ban future leasehold houses and monetary ground rents are similarly irrelevant.
Helen Hayes conceded that it would be difficult for existing local authority leaseholders to benefit from any transition to the fairer commonhold system. Their legal position starkly contrasts with leaseholders of flats in privately-owned buildings, creating headaches for policymakers.
Katie Kendrick, NLC co-founder and paediatric nurse, gave a moving presentation on the “mental torture” of leaseholding for the long-term tenants regardless of property type or who their landlord is. She discussed the results of the group’s mental health survey that was featured on the BBC Victoria Darbyshire programme last year.
Leasehold Knowledge Partnership urges readers who have local authority landlords to share their stories so we can continue exposing abuses and pressuring government not to leave you behind.
Mari Knowles, solicitor, and Amanda Gourlay, barrister, who both have a track-record of representing leaseholders gave extremely useful presentations with slides that were a step-by-step guide to taking a case to the tribunal. LKP will publish these separately.
Our thanks to Brendan O’Brien, HOC Conference Organiser, and Mohamed Bounechada, HOC Conference Organiser, and Liz Errington, HOC Conference Chair.