Living in a privately owned block of flats where communal areas and shared facilities are managed on your behalf can work really well and promises a hassle-free lifestyle. But what happens when those responsible for looking after your building fail to do their job properly or begin levying unreasonable fees for their services or for repairs and maintenance?
Do you have the right to hold them to account, and is there any way that you can get them removed from their role and replaced with someone else? Also, is there any particular procedure you need to follow or do you have the freedom to handle matters as you please?
William Mayston, civil litigation lawyer with with Stephens & Son in Chatham, Kent provides the answer to these and other frequently asked questions that arise when dealing with a building management dispute.
There are a number of ways in which a dispute with the current manager of your building might be resolved, but the best option for you will depend on your circumstances and what it is that you would like to achieve. In most cases, the best place to start is by raising your concerns with the manager directly – using their internal complaints procedure, if they have one.
When contacting your manager, you should:
- explain what your concerns are;
- request any information that you require;
- suggest ways in which your concerns could be addressed; and
- offer to meet to discuss matters, if appropriate.
Where information is needed to help you assess your manager’s conduct, then it is worth knowing that you have certain rights when it comes to seeking information about property management issues. This includes the right to be provided with a summary of the costs associated with the provision of anything included in your service charge bill.
Management redress scheme
If complaining directly to your manager fails to address your concerns, then it may be possible for you to escalate matters by referring your complaint to one of two government approved property dispute resolution services, operated by The Property Ombudsman and The Property Redress Scheme. However, going down this route will only be an option where a professional management company has been appointed to look after your block and where you can prove that you have utilised their complaints procedure first. It will not usually be an option where your landlord has assumed responsibility for carrying out the management functions.
Where you and your manager are still on speaking terms, and both have an appetite to try to resolve matters amicably, then another option you might like to consider is referring your dispute to an independent mediator who can support you to reach a mutually acceptable compromise. You will each need to contribute towards the cost of the process, but this is a method of dispute resolution with an excellent success rate and is easy to arrange.
First Tier Tribunal
Where relations between you and your manager have soured, or where positions between you have become so entrenched there is no reasonable prospect of an out-of-court settlement being achieved, then your only option may be to refer your dispute to the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). However, we would urge you to take legal advice before embarking on this course of action as it should always be considered a step of last resort and one that should not, wherever possible, be taken without the benefit of a solicitor’s opinion on your prospects of achieving a good result and for a fee that is proportionate to the gravity of what is at stake.
An example of where an application to the tribunal may be appropriate is where you require a legal declaration as to your liability to pay certain charges that are being levied, or where you have serious concerns over the reasonableness of service charge costs.
Time for a new manager?
An application to the tribunal will also usually be required where your ultimate aim is to get your manager removed and replaced by someone else. This is something that the tribunal has the power to order, but only if you can demonstrate that current management arrangements are unsatisfactory and that you have given your manager the opportunity put things right (via the service of a section 22 notice) but they have failed to take appropriate action.
Examples of unsatisfactory management include a failure on the part of your manager to comply with their obligations under the terms of your lease, to act in accordance with a code of management practice, or where they are seeking to charge excessive administration fees.
Taking on the management yourself
Where there are other leaseholders in your building who share your concerns, it may also be possible for you to act collectively to exercise statutory rights to take over the management of your block and to set up your own management company.
The rules around this are fairly complex, but in summary you may qualify to do this where:
- you live in a building which houses at least two flats;
- at least two thirds of the building is owned by long leaseholders (i.e. leaseholders whose leases were for a term of more than 21 years when originally granted); and
- at least half of the flats in the building are held by long leaseholders who want to join you in exercising rights of management.
However, you need to be aware that following a ruling by the Supreme Court in January 2022 in the case of FirstPort Property Services Ltd v Settlers Court RTM Company and others, where a right to manage exists, it will only extend to the management of your own block and not to any facilities or services enjoyed by you and other blocks of flats on a wider estate. This is something you need to bear in mind where, for example, your concern lies in the way a communal car park is being run, or with a whole-estate concierge service.
How we can help
By talking to us as soon as an issue concerning the management of your property arises, we can help you to assess your options and to identify the quickest and most effective means by which a resolution can be obtained. This ensures that any problems you are experiencing can be dealt with swiftly and in a way that achieves a permanent and satisfactory solution.
Stephens & Son has offices across Kent in Chatham, Gravesend, Maidstone, Tenterden and Tonbridge.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.