Tribunal backs housing association in £5m repairs row
Published by 24publishing for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities, Local Government
Tribunal backs landlord in repairs row
Leaseholders at eight blocks of maisonettes which were upgraded and improved by a housing association have lost their bid to escape paying thousands of pounds each to cover the cost of the works.
Leaseholders at Dartmouth Court in Hereford had applied to the Leaseholder Valuation Tribunal (LVT) last year claiming that they weren’t adequately informed by Herefordshire Housing of the works and disputed the cost.
Despite the improvements totalling £5m or £46,500 per maisonette, the landlord was asking for £17,500 from each leaseholder.
If the tribunal had found that leaseholders weren’t adequately informed, the service charges would have been reduced to £250 per leaseholder.
The work went well beyond repairs and refurbishments - (pictured before, left, and after) and included substantial architectural additions e.g. a new pitched roof and the creation of new stairway enclosures.
The case hinged on whether a “crucial” notice informing leaseholders of the work had been sent to them in April 2009.
Herefordshire Housing, which manages nearly 6,000 homes following a stock transfer from the council in 2002, said the notices had been hand-delivered to each leaseholder on 20 April 2009 and, in addition, sent by ordinary post to non-resident leaseholders' last recorded address the same day.
However, until a few weeks before the hearing, the landlord appeared to be relying on a notice dated 29 July 2011 – which post-dated the OJEU notice for the works.
However, they were able to verify that the letters had been sent out in April after the landlord’s computer system was checked.
The LVT said: "The tribunal makes findings of fact on the balance of probabilities and taking account of all the evidence in relation to the notices. We find that the notices were given to the leaseholders in accordance with the schedules to the regulations on that balance of probabilities."
The LVT said the absence of the "crucial" April 2009 notice would have been "fatal to the service charge demand".
The tribunal decided that the majority of charges were "reasonable" and agreed that nearly £15,000 could be charged. The reduction in costs came from work it felt hadn't been described in the original notices or where it viewed the costs as "substantially unreasonable".
It said that while the contract value, as advertised in the OJEU notice, seems to have been "significantly exceeded", only a portion of the sum spent was being sought by the landlord.
It added that the maisonettes have been "enhanced in value" by the blocks now being "significantly improved".
Efforts are being made to assist leaseholders who might otherwise find it impossible to pay the sums demanded.
Peter Brown Chief Executive of the association, said, “Our customers deserve the best and we have invested over £62m improving homes across the county. This legal decision confirms that we listened carefully to comments and acted reasonably. The leaseholders must pay their fair share.”