A different way of dealing with London council leaseholders was starkly revealed last Saturday: Southwark makes an open effort to talk to them, while Lambeth hides its own blunders by shutting them up with NDAs: non-disclosure agreements.
Lambeth has signed 119 NDAs to shut down leaseholders – and cover up its incompetence – between January 2019 and September 2023 and paid out £1,811,500 in settlements.
The contrast between the two councils was made overt at a conference of more than 200 leaseholders organised by the Southwark Homeowners Group at an all-day conference paid for by the council (and including an edible and health aware lunch).
Cllr Darren Merrill, the Labour cabinet member for homes and homelessness, and Dave Hodgson, the council official who heads of asset management, were on the receiving end of a barrage of moaning from leaseholders. Amid the blocked drains and leaking roofs were more substantial concerns.
Cllr Merrill, who is also a leaseholder, told the conference that “leaseholders are our eyes and ears” when it came to Southwark’s housing stock. But their voice too, it appears, after leaseholder Ina Negoita told the two:
“Southwark’s relationship with contractors is far too cosy. Consultants are given a blank cheque to decide major works with no over-sight from the council. You must scrutinise every payment.”
While Cllr Merrill was of the view that “there are contractors out there trying to raise prices”, Mr Hodgson said that “leaseholders are not being exploited”.
Southwark, which has 55,000 homes under management of which 15,000 are leasehold, will be negotiating the renewal of contracts with maintenance companies in 18 months time, “and residents will be involved”, Mr Hodgson said.
Martin Boyd, LKP chair who also chaired the conference, pointed out that there was no obligation for Southwark to sign long term qualifying agreements with contractors at all. They could go out to tender individually, as happens with many other councils.
Although leaseholders very seldom express gratitude or affection for their landlord, there was little in the succession of grievances aired that indicated systemic issues with Southwark Council.
Indeed, Sebastian O’Kelly, of LKP, told the conference that no private landlord would have attended a similar conference with their leaseholders: they would only speak to leaseholders in court.
He then contrasted the situation in Southwark with that of its south London neighbour Lambeth, which may have 35,000 homes under management of which 11,000 are private leasehold.
At the All-Party Parliamentary Group for leasehold reform on September 18, Lambeth leaseholders reported that 119 major works disputes had been settled before court with leaseholders forced to sign NDAs – the controversial non-disclosure agreements beloved of failing public entities.
One leaseholder, it was said, escaped a £30,000 major bill because of Lambeth’s failings.
“This demonstrates systemic failure by Lambeth, which is hiding its own appalling incompetence,” Mr O’Kelly told the conference.
“It does not demonstrate that Lambeth leaseholders, who challenge these bills by employing independent quantative surveyors, have been outstandingly brilliant. Something is badly wrong in Lambeth.”
More than £1.8 million has been paid out in settlements:
As we reported last week, Lib Dem Councillor Donna Harris asked Lambeth Council how much it has spent on non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses with Lambeth council leaseholders. Tod…
Barrister Amanda Gourlay took leaseholders through some property tribunal cases involving councils, again mainly concerning major works.
Andrew Brookes, of Anthony Gold Solicitors, pointed out that there can be times when the council itself owes leaseholders money after failing to provide a service.
Mr Brookes had represented leaseholders on the St Saviours Estate in Southwark who were faced with the prospect of having to have new front doors even though the existing ones were fine, and successfully ensured none were replaced.
Katie Kendrick and Cath Williams, co-founders of the National Leasehold Campaign, explained to the conference the workings of their campaign, including the recent brilliant posters at the party conferences emblazoned on the side of a van.
In an analysis of one case, Sebastian O’Kelly referenced the Michelle Baharier’s major works case over communal heating, which a leaseholder actually won. He praised Southwark for only using housing officials to argue the point at the First Tier Tribunal.
Only on appeal did the council deploy Philip Rainey QC (as was) to demolish the argument. It is not known who paid up the bill.