It looks as if the anger flat-owners feel over outrageous service charges and management fees imposed by freeholders and their managing agents is at last being heard. Indeed the whole concept of leasehold ownership of residential flats is coming under scrutiny.
Channel 4 TV will be showing a programme ‘Property Nightmare: The Truth about Leaseholds’ on August 20 at 8pm. Dispatches reporter Morland Sanders investigates allegations of private landlords, councils, and housing associations overcharging leasehold homeowners for housing works and maintenance.
It is understood that housing minister Grant Shapps and Siobhan McGrath, the senior barrister who presides over the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal system, will be interviewed and it should be interesting to hear their views.
Flats in England and Wales are invariably owned with leasehold title. Many more people are now buying such properties, and buyers discover that they are required under their leases to pay all sorts of charges and fees to the freeholders or agents who are supposed to manage the buildings.
But often these charges are grossly inflated – for instance, agents arrange for repair works to be carried out by companies which they control, or pocket huge commissions from buildings insurance. And when a flat is sold, substantial fees have to be paid to managing agents to obtain management information and register the new owner.
Although legislation appears to give leaseholders some rights to object to unreasonable charges, freeholders and agents know how to operate the legal system to their advantage. All too often the poor flat-owner ends up having to pay expensive legal bills for no benefit.
There is a rising amount of opinion against these injustices. The Scottish parliament has recently passed a law requiring building managers to be registered, and to comply with a statutory code of conduct. Yet there still seems to be opposition to introducing similar legislation for England and Wales.
So if you are flat-owner and think that you are being ripped off by your freeholder, watch Channel 4’s programme and contact you MP to make your feelings known.