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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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Russian TV host refuses to apologise for report on mock nuclear attack on Ireland

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The Russian state television host who broadcast a graphic of a simulated nuclear attack destroying Ireland has rejected a request from Taoiseach Micheál Martin to apologise for the programme.

In a follow-up report broadcast on state-owned television channel Russia-1 on Sunday night, television host Dmitry Kiselyov refused to apologise for the animated graphic broadcast earlier this month showing a nuclear strike off the Irish coast erasing Ireland and Britain from the map.

On Sunday’s programme, Kiselyov, a Kremlin supporter and state propagandist, described Ireland as “collateral damage” in a potential nuclear attack by Russia on the UK in any escalation of tensions between the countries over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

While distinguishing between Ireland, a neutral country, and the UK, Kiselyov repeated the assertion in the original report that “the whole British archipelago was basically a sinkable island” and that Russia has “every capability for such a nuclear retaliation”.

Referring to Irish political and public reaction to the original report broadcast at the start of this month, the Russian TV host said: “Ireland literally flew into a rage. Of course as a neutral country, it wasn’t nice for Ireland to become collateral damage in Britain’s clash with Russia.”

The news report, according to a translation tweeted by the BBC digital journalist Francis Scarr who monitors Russian state television, quoted the Taoiseach describing the Russian media report as “very sinister, intimidatory tactics by the Russian Federation”.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to be intimidated by it. I think it reflects a mindset that is worrying and not in touch with reality. I think there should be an apology forthcoming,” the Taoiseach was quoted as saying on the Russian programme against a photograph of Mr Martin.

Kiselyov said he completely agreed that an apology should be forthcoming but that it should come from British prime minister Boris Johnson, falsely claiming that the UK leader had made a “groundless threat to strike Russia” that had led to the original report and simulated attack.

“But we’re not intimidating anyone. Talking about capabilities has an anti-war modality. As they say, let’s not start. It will end badly. It’s better to live in peace,” said Kiselyov.

Fianna Fáil MEP for Ireland South Billy Kelleher said the Russian state-owned station still owed an apology to the Taoiseach and the Irish people over the report and mock attack.

He described the Russia presenter as “a mouthpiece” for Russian leader Vladimir Putin and that “anything said by him were effectively the official views from the Kremlin”.

“It shows how delusional their foreign policy is. It shows how removed they are from understanding what neutral countries are,” he said.

“It is indicative of Russia’s view of the world and how they believe they can obliterate a nation if they feel that is necessary to protect themselves even if there is no threat coming from Ireland.”

The reports on the Russian national broadcaster were “outrageous”, “completely unacceptable” and “indicative of the delusional state of the entire Putin regime,” he said.

“We simply cannot have what are official media outlets relaying huge threats to wipe Ireland off the face of the earth, a neutral country that has never once threatened Russia,” he said.

Labour Party foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Howlin TD described the host’s comments as “both delusional and menacing on a number of fronts”, including how the television station was conflating Ireland and Britain.

“Ireland is a neutral country but as the people of Ireland have very ably demonstrated in the last two months, we are not neutral in relation to the illegal and immoral assault on the people of Ukraine by Putin,” he said.

“We will not be intimidated by grandiose, farcical threats emanating from Russia. This is not a comic book; this is a painful reality for millions of Ukrainians.”



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Sirius Real Estate sells London business park for €18.8m (GB)

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Sirius Real Estate has agreed to the sale of an asset in Camberwell, London, for €18.8m (£16m), representing a NIY of circa 2%. The property formed part of the portfolio Sirius acquired in November 2021 with its purchase of BizSpace, the leading provider of regional light industrial, workshop, studio and out of town office units across the UK. The sale price represents a 94% premium to the valuation at the time of Sirius’ acquisition of BizSpace.

 

The multi-tenanted business park, which comprises approximately 34,700ft² of industrial and office space is 91% occupied following a series of asset management measures delivered through the BizSpace platform. The sale is expected to complete in July 2022.

 

Commenting on the transaction, Andrew Coombs, Chief Executive Officer of Sirius Real Estate, said: “This disposal is further proof of the latent value in the BizSpace portfolio we acquired late last year, the price being significantly ahead of last September’s valuation on which our purchase was based, and the attractive sale follows our recent announcement that we had since improved like-for-like rental income across the portfolio by 7.5%. The sale will allow us to invest in new opportunities for BizSpace in the UK as we continue to build our acquisition pipeline. Bringing together the Sirius and BizSpace platforms, with a strengthened management team at BizSpace, is already delivering strong results and operational synergies that will enhance our UK portfolio.”

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Southwold beach hut which is 10ft wide with no running water or electricity up for sale for £250,000

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A beach hut in an upmarket seaside town which is famed for its celebrity visitors has gone on the market for a record £250,000.

The price is believed to be the highest ever to be asked in the UK for a hut which people are not allowed to sleep in – and is double the cost of a three bedroom terraced house just 10 miles away.

The hut, numbered 149 and called ‘Here’s Hoping’, measures 10ft 6ins wide and is in a prime position on the promenade in the Edwardian town of Southwold, Suffolk.

The resort has always been a popular retreat for well-heeled Londoners and celebrities including Chris Evans, Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis.

Beach huts on the south coast can be more expensive with selling prices for some in Dorset exceeding £500,000.

But the huts in Southwold, which have no electricity or running water, are subject to strict local by-laws which ban anyone from sleeping overnight.

A beach hut called 'Here's Hoping', pictured, which sits on the promenade of the upmarket seaside town Southwold in Suffolk, Doset, famed for its celebrity visitors, has gone on the market for a record £250,000

A beach hut called ‘Here’s Hoping’, pictured, which sits on the promenade of the upmarket seaside town Southwold in Suffolk, Doset, famed for its celebrity visitors, has gone on the market for a record £250,000

The price is believed to be the highest ever to be asked in the UK for a hut which people are not allowed to sleep in. The hut, called 'Here's Hoping' and numbered 149, measures 10ft 6ins wide and is in a prime position on the promenade in the Edwardian town

The price is believed to be the highest ever to be asked in the UK for a hut which people are not allowed to sleep in. The hut, called ‘Here’s Hoping’ and numbered 149, measures 10ft 6ins wide and is in a prime position on the promenade in the Edwardian town

The resort has always been a popular retreat for well-heeled Londoners and celebrities including Chris Evans, Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis. Beach huts on the south coast can be more expensive with selling prices for some in Dorset exceeding £500,000

The resort has always been a popular retreat for well-heeled Londoners and celebrities including Chris Evans, Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis. Beach huts on the south coast can be more expensive with selling prices for some in Dorset exceeding £500,000

The buyer will still have to pay annual ground rent of £998 and will only have 18 years left of a 30 year lease, although there will be an option to renew.

They will be able to enjoy spectacular views from a veranda overlooking the beach and the North Sea, while being just a short walk from pubs, restaurants and shops.

But just 10 miles away in Lowestoft, Suffolk, there are several homes up for sale, priced between £120,000 and £140,000.

But the huts in Southwold (pictured), which have no electricity or running water, are subject to strict local by-laws which ban anyone from sleeping overnight

But the huts in Southwold (pictured), which have no electricity or running water, are subject to strict local by-laws which ban anyone from sleeping overnight

Southwold beach (pictured) has always been a popular retreat for well-heeled Londoners and celebrities including Chris Evans, Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis

Southwold beach (pictured) has always been a popular retreat for well-heeled Londoners and celebrities including Chris Evans, Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis

Huts in the best locations within Southwold, which is famed for its Adnams brewery, pier and lighthouse, are rarely on the market and some have been in the same family or generations

Huts in the best locations within Southwold, which is famed for its Adnams brewery, pier and lighthouse, are rarely on the market and some have been in the same family or generations

Several semi-detached homes in the area offer three bedrooms, one bathroom and two reception rooms, and is located 0.1 miles away from Lowestoft railway station.

Another property on the market is a £90,000, three-bed semi-detached bungalow at Broadlands Park and Marina in Lowestoft which has a garden, one bathroom and one living room.

The listing for the beach hut boasts that it has ‘glazed double folding doors’ and ‘a number of storage cupboards’.

The previous highest price asked for one of Southwold’s 300 beach huts was £150,000 in September 2018.

Prices have soared since then as property prices have continued to increase and the demand for staycation breaks following the Covid epidemic has boomed.

Huts in the best locations within Southwold, which is famed for its Adnams brewery, pier and lighthouse, are rarely on the market and some have been in the same family or generations.

Several semi-detached homes in the area offer three bedrooms, one bathroom and two reception rooms, and is located 0.1 miles away from Lowestoft railway station

Several semi-detached homes in the area offer three bedrooms, one bathroom and two reception rooms, and is located 0.1 miles away from Lowestoft railway station

Many are rented out for around £600 a week to visitors who flock to the town.

The latest asking price is more than double the price of a three bedroom terrace house on the market for £110,000 around ten miles away in Lowestoft, Suffolk.

More than half the properties in Southwold are second homes and the full-time population is now below 1,000, putting extra strain on local services.

Earlier this year, councillors unveiled plans to try and stem the number of second homes in the town and make more affordable housing possible for local people.

A spokesperson for estate agent Flick & Son, which is selling the hut, said: ‘I am sure it will go very quickly.

‘There is a high demand for huts and we expect there will be a bidding war in the end.’

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