The Taylor Wimpey ground rent scandal featured in the Sunday Times yesterday, as it emerges that executives are being sent out to visit the complaining leaseholders.
The article was in the form of a reader’s letter from a £130,000 leasehold house owner in Bolton facing doubling ground rents from an initial £250.
Garry Evans says these rise to £500 a year from January and asked whether he could challenge it.
Solicitor Paul Greatholder, of Russel Cooke solicitors, said this was unlikely as consumer rights law in this area is largely untested. He referenced the 2015 Arnold v Britton case in the Supreme Court where service charges spiralling to hundreds of thousands a year were deemed lawful.
Sebastian O’Kelly, Trustee of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, advised Mr Evans to make as much noise as he could through national and local media and MPs. The Taylor Wimpey ground rent scandal has already featured in several newspapers, radio and, it is anticipated, TV.
The short article referenced the chairmen of the All Party Parliamentary Group on leasehold reform, Sir Peter Bottomley and Jim Fitzpatrick, calling on Taylor Wimpey to make these leases fair.
Separately, the company is sending our executives to meet the noisier complainants who have been caught up in the ground rent scandal.
This is part of the “review” promised by Taylor Wimpey CEO Pete Redfern to the MP chairmen.
It is not at all clear what the purpose of these visits will be, beyond risk assessment to the company and information gathering.
The terms of the lease and how many people are affected by them will be well known to Taylor Wimpey, even though it is most scrupulous in thanking LKP for “bringing the matter to our attention”.
A key issue here is that all the leaseholders affected who have contacted LKP used solicitors’ firms that were recommended by the housebuilder.
That is not look good.
At the outset of the downturn in 2008 a number of purchasers of Berkeley Group flat buyers did not complete their purchases.
They formed a protest group and interested the press and MPs.
Some newspapers – the Evening Standard in London – were very sympathetic; other journalists (including were Mr O’Kelly) were sceptical that some of the defaulting buyers were disgruntled buy-to-let buyers who did not want to complete on what was now a dud investment.
The key argument concerned the use of solicitors recommended by the housebuilder.
In the event, the issue was solved and silenced with “non-disclosure agreements” (NDAs).