As a conveyancing firm we have witnessed the law relating to leasehold residential service charges has been radically altered over the past 25 years but some of it, whilst being practical and tenant friendly is ignored by Landlords and Managing agents alike.
Below we offer our top tips for leasehold living:
Get To Know Your Lease Obligations
Whilst many people who live in leasehold accommodation, pick up some information through the conveyancing process, most leaseholders have no legal training it is imperative that you understand your lease, not only your obligations but also those of your Landlord. The lease is always the first port of call for professionals to assess the obligations and often problems can be solved by referring to this leasehold document. Service charge percentages are often specified in modern leases and furthermore the lease should confirm what parts of the building are your responsibility and which parts are common parts. If you are unsure of anything in the lease look at the report that your conveyancing lawyer prepared for you or, assuming they will not charge you, pick up the phone to your lawyer and seek their clarification.
Get to know your lease obligations Service Charge tip –" Know your lease"
Keep In Contact With Your Managing Agent
From past experience people who maintain a good working relationship with the managing agent and indeed who build up a "rapport" often solve problems in the residential service charge world far quicker than either by ignoring each other or by taking immediate legal action. However, try and put you problems or queries in writing in order that you have paper trails should problems occur.
Keep in contact with your managing agent Service charge tip –" Be friendly, but firm"
Keep To The Rules
It is often a misunderstood position but in order that buildings can be properly managed in an orderly fashion rules must be imposed, especially in large blocks of flats. In reality the Lease is not only a contract between yourself and the Landlord but also as set of rules as to how the property should be managed and indeed who should be responsible for payments.
Keep the rules Service charge tip –" Obey the rules as long as they are legal"
Pay your service charges on time
This is obvious, but unless you have a dispute with the Landlord or Managing Agent over payment amounts, it is wise to disburse the service charge on time, especially as the law allows you to potentially argue at a later date over service charge amounts.
If you have financial worries and cannot afford to make payment you should contact your Managing Agent in sufficient time, in order that you can offer an easier payment option such as monthly instalments.
Pay your bills on time Service Charge tip - "Do not bury your head in the sand" !
Service Charge Investigation
The need to carry out investigations in the service charge world is important. The law is often complicated and sometimes not practical nor logical. Always be armed with information and if in doubt get advice from a professional such as conveyancing lawyer or property solicitor . Try and get to know the basic law but never threaten anything of which you are not sure.
Investigation Service charge tip – "always be prepared"
Service Charge Dispute Resolution
If after you have exhausted all avenues of negotiation with your Landlord or Managing Agent and you still cannot get agreement over a service charge dispute situation then you have the ability to make an application to The Leasehold Valuation Tribunal ("LVT").
The LVT, deals with an entire range of Service Charge disputes and are able to arbitrate on decisions as to "reasonableness" of charges and works carried out at your property.
You could also consider getting a Service Charge Health Check from Fridaysmove .
Dispute resolution Service Charge tip –"Get a Health Check - and don’t be scared to take action in the Courts or LVT if you have taken advice and you think you are right".