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Can I refuse to pay a £14k property manager bill for new windows for my flat?

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I have been told that my development of leasehold flats needs new windows and other works, and that my service charge contribution towards the cost will be more than £14,000, with half of that amount required within a fortnight. 

How can we be asked to pay such a large amount without much notice and with no clarity on what we are being asked to pay for? EB 

Flat owner is asked for £15,000 by their property management company for new windows

Flat owner is asked for £15,000 by their property management company for new windows

MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: As is often the case with such disputes, your lease is king. Check the wording of that document as there may be requirements within it that your freeholder must adhere to.  

That certainly seems to be the case here, and reason not to pay the demand you have been presented with at this point in time.

It is important to keep in contact with your freeholder, to highlight how the lease requires you to be informed and present some alternative quotes that prove it is possible to do the same work at a lower cost.  

Stephen Gold, ex-judge and author, explains: You have been sent a service charge demand – euphemistically called an application for payment – for £8,005.17 to be paid within 14 days and so time was up on November 5 this year.

That is roughly one half of the amount you are being required to pay for the current service charge year, which is £16,059 and not £14,600 as you had thought.

Is the application for payment valid?

The landlord, through the managing agent, must have followed the wording of your lease in the run up to the demand. A failure to do so could render the demand invalid.

The fact that management functions are being exercised by a Right to Manage company does not affect this principle. It means that the lease should always be the first port of call by the recipient of a demand, once they have recovered from shock.

Your lease requires the landlord to calculate the service charge no later than at the ‘beginning of June’ before the service charge year starts. Therefore, in your case the calculation should have been made nearly five months before it was notified to you.

Although the lease does not specifically say so, I would regard it as implied that not only would the calculation be made, but it would be notified to you within a reasonable period after calculation.

Seek some alternative window quotes to establish the agent's figure is too high and unreasonable

Seek some alternative window quotes to establish the agent’s figure is too high and unreasonable

The main point of the exercise would be to allow you to have as much time as circumstances allowed to arrange your financial affairs so that you could settle the demand when needed.

Not only did your demand come nearly five months after the lease deadline for its calculation but nearly two months into the service charge year.

It is arguable that the failure to make and notify you of the calculation as the lease required, has rendered the demand invalid because compliance was a pre-condition to your liability arising and so you do not have to pay it.

Are the reasonableness tests satisfied? 

Incurring the budgeted expenses to be incurred and any expenses already incurred which are covered by the demand must be reasonable.

Stephen Gold is a retired judge and author

Stephen Gold is a retired judge and author

The works and services must have been carried out to a reasonable standard. 

The amounts charged up for those works and services must be reasonable. If the landlord has not passed all these tests, the demand can be challenged on that ground alone, independently of a challenge to the validity of the demand. 

Unreasonableness would not wipe out the demand in its entirety but reduce it to reflect the extent of it.

You say, for example, that windows do not need to be replaced but can be repaired and that the replacement cost is very high with the agents claiming that smaller companies which might have been cheaper, have declined a contract because it would be too large for them.

You should join with co-tenants up in arms and seek some quotes from other companies which, if materially lower than budgeted for by the agents, can be used to establish that the agent’s figure is too high and so unreasonable. If other companies will not cooperate, it could be in your interests to instruct a building surveyor to report on the reasonableness of the agent’s figure. But before giving the surveyor the go-ahead, make sure that you ask them for a quote.

The next step is, I suggest, that you contact the agents and invite them to withdraw the demand due to the failure to comply with the lease by calculating the service charge and notifying it to you by the beginning of June 2021 at the latest.

Inform them that, strictly without prejudice to your contention that the demand is invalid, you require them to provide you with (1) copies of all requests they have made for quotes and, where requests were made verbally, the names and addresses of the contractors approached and (2) copies of all quotes received.

And if the agents persist?

You can challenge the demand by making an application to the First-Tier Tribunal as explained on the back of the demand. Your prospects of success will be clearer once the agents have dealt with your correspondence, and you have comparable quotes.

At that point, it would be wise for you and your co-tenants to take all the up-to-date paperwork to a solicitor for advice on the strengths – and any weaknesses – of your arguments.

Solicitors will often be prepared to advise on a discrete aspect of a dispute without being taken on to deal with the whole case from beginning to end. They call this ‘unbundling’.

Alternatively, you can ask a barrister who deals with clients directly and with no solicitor being involved as well – many do – to advise on the same basis.

You can source one on the internet by searching for ‘direct access landlord and tenant barrister’.

This advice from a solicitor or barrister should not cost an arm and a leg, but do get a quote first.

Should the expense be beyond the means of the group then some advice should be obtainable free from Citizens Advice or other advice agency or law centre.

If the challenge is to be pursued, it would be better for that to be done through your own tribunal application rather than have the landlord sue you in the county court. That is due to a clause in the lease about the landlord being able to charge you up for the costs of enforcing payment of the service charge.

However, the lease wording might arguably entitle the landlord, win or lose, to add its costs of opposing a tribunal case to its service charges to be contributed to by all tenants. You can apply to the tribunal on behalf of yourself and co-tenants to order that the landlord be prevented from doing so.

Should the agents threaten to tell your mortgage lender that you owe what has been demanded and that the landlord will forfeit your lease if they do not settle on your behalf and add the bill to your account, tell the lender not to pay and that you are making a tribunal challenge and why so. 

Stephen Gold is an ex-judge and author of ‘The Return of Breaking Law’ published by Bath Publishing. For more on service charges, go to breakinglaw.co.uk 

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‘I was so proud to be Navajo and so proud to be Irish’

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“For the first time in my lifetime my two cultures were intertwined in the most beautiful way … I was so proud to be Navajo and so proud to be Irish.”

Doreen McPaul was speaking as she received a Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad for 2021. President Higgins granted the awards to 11 people at a ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin on December 2nd.

McPaul, of Irish and Navajo heritage, is attorney general for the Navajo Nation. Her award, under the category of charitable works, is in recognition of her fundraising for the Navajo, who experienced extreme hardship during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Her efforts led to a collaboration with the Irish Cultural Centre and McClelland Library in Phoenix, Arizona, which gathered more than $30,000 worth of donated supplies to assist the Navajo Nation at the peak of the pandemic.

“The Navajo Nation was so devastated by Covid-19, as a culture and as a community. [It] was really tragic and stressful, and we worked literally non-stop. The highlight of this was talking to people from all over the world …. Specifically with Ireland, we had this huge outpouring of support, and that was really overwhelming because of my own dual heritage and growing up as a half-Navajo half-Irish girl,” she told The Irish Times.

“As soon as people learned that the Navajo Nation attorney general was part-Irish, people reached out to me and claimed me as their own and invited me to all these things and celebrated my dual heritage in a way I’ve never experienced before. Literally they put me on the highest pedestal and that’s what this award signifies to me.”

A graduate of Princeton University, Doreen McPaul has worked as a tribal attorney for 20 years and has spent two years serving as attorney general. “I didn’t know I was nominated for the award first of all. So when the Irish council called to let me know I would be receiving a notice of the award, I literally cried.”

In all, 11 people received awards on Thursday, in a variety of fields. They were: Arts, Culture and Sport: Susan Feldman (USA), Roy Foster (Britain) and Br Colm O’Connell (Kenya). Business and Education: Sr Orla Treacy (South Sudan). Charitable Works: Doreen Nanibaa McPaul (USA), Phyllis Morgan-Fann and Jim O’Hara (Britain). Irish Community Support: Adrian Flannelly and Billy Lawless (USA). Peace, Reconciliation & Development: Bridget Brownlow (Canada). Science, Technology & Innovation: Susan Hopkins (Britain).

Colm Brophy, Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora said: “As Minister of State for the Diaspora I am aware of the profound impact our global family has had around the world in a variety of fields. There were 107 nominations for these awards this year, and the level and breadth of the achievements of the people nominated are, by any measure, remarkable.

The contribution of the Irish abroad has been immense, and the diversity of their achievements in their many walks of life, can be seen in this year’s 11 awardees.”

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Ski home values rise by up to 17% despite travel restrictions says Savills

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It’s not just Britain’s property market that is red-hot. Homes in ski resorts are being snapped up by wealthy buyers despite the pandemic and on/off travel restrictions, a new reports suggests.

And just like here, the staggering growth in values stems from high demand and lack of supply. 

The findings are in Savills latest ski report, which tracks 44 resorts globally. It found that property prices grew on average 5.1 per cent in the last year.

However, some resorts – including Flims and Grimentz in Switzerland – saw values rise 17 per cent.

This chalet in Chemin Des Cleves in Switzerland and is for sale for CHF6,000,000, the equivalent of £4.9million

This chalet in Chemin Des Cleves in Switzerland and is for sale for CHF6,000,000, the equivalent of £4.9million

Top 20 prime ski resorts, based on price per square metres (priced in euros)

Top 20 prime ski resorts, based on price per square metres (priced in euros)

The release of pent-up demand for ski properties follows almost two seasons of closures for most resorts.

Jeremy Rollason, of Savills, said: ‘Only a few resorts such as Val d’Isère, Verbier and Morzine were seeing real price growth up until 2019. 

‘That has all changed with virtually all resorts in the Alps and North America experiencing strong double digit and sometimes exponential price growth in a matter of months.’

He adds: ‘The first quarter of 2021 was particularly acute for demand. Transaction volumes doubled over the previous year and fierce competition emerged, especially for prime property in the most exclusive resorts.

‘Property that had previously been for sale for a few months – or even years – suddenly found buyers who were keen to escape the confines of towns and cities.’

The North American ski resorts of Aspen and Vail top the Savills Ski Prime Price League with Courchevel 1850 moving from the top spot to third place.

Aspen, which celebrates its 75th birthday this season, is predominantly a domestic market, with average values at around £25,000 per square metre.

Meribel has broken into the top ten price resorts with asking prices of around £13,800 per square metre. 

With its 200 lifts, and central to the world’s largest ski area – Les Trois Vallees – Meribel is popular among French and British skiers looking for a dual season resort.

Making the most of a dual season: This five-bed chalet is in St Gervais, in France's Haute-Savoie region, and is on the market for €2.5m (£2.13m)

Making the most of a dual season: This five-bed chalet is in St Gervais, in France’s Haute-Savoie region, and is on the market for €2.5m (£2.13m)

Estate agents Savills also looked at the prospects for price growth in 10 key resorts

Estate agents Savills also looked at the prospects for price growth in 10 key resorts

While resorts have always pushed the benefits of using properties throughout the winter and summer, a dual season resort is now the most important locational factor for buyers as they look to make the most of their holiday homes, according to Savills.

The estate agent said that regardless of international travel restrictions, foreign buyers are still keen to purchase ski resort properties and have been quick to return to the property market as restrictions have lifted.

This week, some resorts opened early amid heavy snowfall and are hoping to remain so throughout the season.

Mark Nathan, of Chalets 1066, the largest operator in France’s Les Gets, said: ‘We are fortunate here in that Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, the French Minister for Tourisme has said that ‘closing is not an option’ this winter.

‘The snow is amazing at the moment and the pistes will be opening this weekend. The planned date was December 12 for early opening so this shows how good the conditions are. The fresh snow was up to my knees this morning.’

This five-bed chalet is in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and is for sale for CHF4,200,000, the equivalent of £3.4million

This five-bed chalet is in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and is for sale for CHF4,200,000, the equivalent of £3.4million

He explained that visitors will be expected to show proof of vaccination to go into bars and restaurants, and also when buying lift passes.

‘There might even be random checks in the lift queues. We are also expecting to have to use masks in lift queues – but these are all small points and the good news is we can all ski and enjoy a mountain holiday. 

‘Our bookings are the best we have ever had by a long way, in over 13 years of business. 

‘Over the past few days there has been nervousness among the English and a few other countries with the new Omicron variant, but we now hear that the Swiss will be allowing people who are on their way to France to land at Geneva and then take a transfer directly to France. 

‘Overall, we are looking forward to an exciting ski season.’

Qualified ski instructor and ski journalist Rob Stewart added: ‘British skiers spend more money than domestic visitors and ski resorts are desperate to have us back. 

‘In some French resorts, British skiers are only second to French visitors in regards to numbers and we are such an important part of their economy.

‘This winter, snow seems to have come fairly early and in decent quantities, and it’s cold. This always helps increase visitor numbers and after such a terrible winter last year because of Covid, there is huge positively about this winter being a good one.

‘The challenges remain for British skiers, with nerves around changing travel restrictions still haunting the industry and lack of availability pushing prices higher for the moment. 

‘But for skiers that have missed out for one and half seasons now, these challenges will be overcome if possible, for the chance to get back on the slopes’.

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Players should be allowed to compete in Saudi International

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Rory McIlroy has delivered a potentially crucial intervention on behalf of golfers wishing to compete in the Saudi International in February by insisting the PGA and European tours should not block them from playing.

The Saudi International, once of the European Tour but now an Asian Tour event, has confirmed a number of the world’s most prominent golfers – including Tommy Fleetwood, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio García – have agreed to feature in 2022.

Saudi Arabia has sought to make inroads into professional golf but has encountered stiff resistance from the European and PGA tours. It has been reported both those bodies could trigger open warfare by refusing to grant releases to their members to play in Jeddah. The European Tour will discuss the issue at board level in the coming days.

McIlroy has no interest in accepting Saudi money but believes others should not be denied the opportunity. “I think we’re independent contractors and we should be able to play where we want to play,” he said. “So in my opinion I think the Tour should grant releases. It’s an Asian Tour event, it’s an event that has official golf world rankings.

“I do see reasons why they wouldn’t grant releases but I think if they’re trying to do what’s best for their members and their members are going to a place other than the PGA Tour and being able to earn that money, I mean, we’re independent contractors and I feel like we should be able to do that if that’s what our personal choice is. My personal choice is not to do that but obviously a lot of players are doing that and I think it’s fair to let them do that.

“My view as a professional golfer is I’m an independent contractor, I should be able to go play where I want if I have the credentials and I have the eligibility to do so. I’d say most of the players on tour would be in a similar opinion to me.”

The matter is further complicated by some players having signed multi-year deals to play in Saudi. McIlroy, 32, did admit the prospect of legal wrangling is an unappealing one. “I think the professional game needs to get to a point where we as professionals need to know where we stand,” he said. “Are we actually independent contractors? Are we employed by a certain entity? There’s a lot of grey area in that and that’s what sort of needs to be sorted out, I think.”

McIlroy’s curious competitive year will close at this weekend’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. “I think it’s been a year where I’ve struggled in parts but I still got two wins on tour, which is pretty good,” the world No 8 said. “I was tied for the lead with nine holes to go in the US Open. I played well in parts, I just didn’t do it consistently enough. I go back to 2019 and had like 19 top-10 finishes or whatever it was; that’s the level I want to play at.” – Guardian

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