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Property service charges: How to challenge unreasonable increases

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I bought my flat in 2015. Since then, my service charges have more than doubled from £1,200 to £2,800. 

Can I challenge them, and if so, what is the best of way of doing it? AD

Any charges must clearly be reasonable and if you suspect they are not - and have done your research - there are ways to effectively challenge any increases

Any charges must clearly be reasonable and if you suspect they are not – and have done your research – there are ways to effectively challenge any increases

Myra Butterworth,  MailOnline property expert, explains: Increases in service charges are set to become more of an issue. 

As the Government begins to clamp down on other freehold and developer revenue streams such as ground rents, service charges are a proven way for investors to make money. 

The sector remains largely unregulated and is open to abuse. It is not uncommon for some property managers to invoice for service fees north of 10 per cent to oversee any major works – and that’s on top of residents’ annual service charge bills.

However, any charges must clearly be reasonable and if you suspect they are not – and have done your research – there are ways to effectively challenge any increases.

The key is to get as much support as possible from other residents and present your case in a reasonable and documented way.   

Stephen Gold, a retired judge and author, explains: The service charge that your flat or house lease condemns you to pay is as popular as parking tickets and the Ultra Low Emission Zone. But more exposed to attack.

Whether you are being told by the landlord or their managing agents to fork out for cleaning the stairways, insuring the building or buying a new peaked cap for the porter, you can challenge what you have been asked to pay.

Did the paint on the front door begin to peel off within six months of the decorator finishing his last sandwich? 

First, the lease wording must catch each item included in the service charge. 

If the lease is silent on a particular expense then the landlord is up the creak.

Second, the expense must have been reasonably incurred. 

Were brand new windows needed or could the old ones have been repaired at a quarter of the price?

Third, the job or service must have been carried out to a reasonable standard. Did the paint on the front door begin to peel off within six months of the decorator finishing his last sandwich and did the porter skive off early and sleep for most of the time he was present?

And finally, the amount charged must be reasonable. Was the going rate in the area for a gardener who can’t tell the difference between an orchid and a weed really £35 an hour?

Stephen Gold is a retired judge and author

Stephen Gold is a retired judge and author

Residents’ association 

There is more power to your elbow if you hunt in packs and so try and get any residents’ association or as many of your co-tenants to support any challenge that is to be made.

The Government-funded Leasehold Advisory Service will give free telephone advice to tenants with a lease for over 21 years but only 15 minutes’ worth, so talk fast.

Where appropriate, seek some quotes for overcharged work from other contractors which can be relied on if lower than charged or to be charged.

And download the free service charge residential management code issued by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which sets out best practice to be followed by landlords and their managing agents.

It’s akin to the highway code and breach of the code could well help your case.

A letter or email to the landlord or managing agents should be your starter. 

Template email to managing agent 

A letter to the landlord or managing agents should be your starter. It’s probably not worth investing a postage stamp on it so use e-mail if you can – something along these lines:

‘We refer to your service charge demand for 2020/1. It is our case that the items particularised in the schedule to this letter are not payable by us for the reasons explained in the same schedule. 

We have calculated that our liability should be limited to the sum of £x instead of £y as claimed. We invite you to revise the demand to £x and to notify your decision on this within 28 days of the date of this letter. 

If you are not prepared to accept £x, it is our intention to make an application to the First-Tier Property Chamber (Residential Property) (or, in Wales, the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal) to reduce the demand under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. 

Should you make a claim to the county court before the application is issued, we will request the court to transfer the proceedings to the tribunal which we are advised it can be expected to do. 

We will apply to the tribunal and/or county court under section 20C of the 1985 Act for an order that prohibits landlord costs and expenses of dealing with the dispute being added to a future service charge.’

The bit above in the template email about section 20C is important. The lease will probably permit the landlord to add their costs and expenses – and that includes lawyers’ bills – to a demand to come.

This could mean that you and your co-tenants end up paying for the privilege of making the challenge, even if you win.

The lease wording would prevail over the usual rule in a county court small claim or in the tribunal that you only get hammered for the winner’s costs if you acted unreasonably. Quite a trap. 

The trap is eliminated by a section 20 C order which can be made where it is ‘just and equitable’ to do so. ‘That wording is a fat lot of good,’ you may say. I sympathise. Let me put it this way… you have a good chance of an order being made.

Do I have to pay the service charge if I disagree with it? 

What do you do when you dispute the service charge and the deadline for paying it is imminent? 

At the least, pay over the amount you say you should have been charged. Just in case the landlord is inclined to play it dirty and tries to induce your mortgage lender to pay on your behalf by threatening to take steps to forfeit your lease, tell the lender about the dispute and not to pay. 

Should paying part only make you twitchy, pay the lot and at the same time state to the landlord that you dispute it is all due and are challenging the charge at a tribunal. 

If the tribunal backs you, the landlord will have to repay what you have overpaid.

The pandemic can be expected to rear its ugly head in future disputes. Was it reasonable for the managing agents to charge their usual fee when they were not managing as expected because staff were off work or working reduced hours? 

Has the benefit of furloughing been factored into their overheads? Should certain services not have been stopped or reduced?

The lease will probably permit the landlord to add their costs and expenses - and that includes lawyers' bills

The lease will probably permit the landlord to add their costs and expenses – and that includes lawyers’ bills

Just to give you some hope, here is my favourite successful challenge in a case which went to the Court of Appeal in 2017. 

It concerned the replacement of windows and cladding to 10 blocks of flats in Isleworth. 

The landlord was the local authority and some of the flats were occupied by former council tenants who had purchased them under the ‘right to buy’ scheme. 

One lady received a demand for £55,000 towards this work and some other items. 

However, the windows had not been in disrepair but suffered from an inherent design fault that related to a hinge failure. 

The hinges could have been replaced for £140 a pair although the problem would have eventually recurred with new hinges. 

The new windows that were fitted had a life span of twice that of the UPVC windows which might have been used at a lower cost.

The Court of Appeal ruled that this sort of work, which amounted to improvements, had to be approached differently to repairs. 

With improvements, a landlord was to take account of the extent of the interests of the paying tenants, their views and the financial impact on them if proposed works went ahead. 

Tenants in a luxury block in Knightsbridge might find it easier to cope with a bill for £50,000 than tenants of a former council flat in Isleworth. 

It was not sufficient to simply rely on what the lease said as justification for embarking on a scheme of very expensive improvement work. The tenant who challenged would have to pay part only of the bill.

Happy service charge demands to you all.

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

What are your options if you’re not getting value for money from your property manager?

Disgruntled leaseholders have three main options to address poor property management

1. One solution is to buy the freehold, but the flat owners may not be able to do this for a variety of reasons, such as not having the required minimum number of leaseholders in the block to buy it.

2. A step down from buying the freehold is doing a Right To Manage application where you apply to the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) to deal with disputes regarding property management. 

The tribunal is part of the courts system and is a leaseholder friendly route for those who cannot afford to pay lawyers. It means you acquire the right to manage the block and need to set up your own company to oversee it. 

In reality, you’ll employ another property management to do the work, which will give you more control over how the block is managed. You will need to seek advice and speak to solicitor. 

3. Perhaps the simplest way to deal with poor property managers is ask the Tribunal to decide whether the service charges are reasonable and for this, you will not need a solicitor. If you apply via the Tribunal, it must investigate. 

It can result in your monthly property management charges being significantly reduced and you can even end up with money being paid back. You can get free advice at www.lease-advice.org

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Amanda Holden puts her five bedroom Surrey home on the market for £5million

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Amanda Holden has put her Surrey mansion on the market for £5million after giving the luxurious property a showbiz makeover.

The Britain’s Got Talent judge, 51, is hoping to make a £1.5million profit having splashed out £3.5m on the five-bedroom home seven years ago.

The detached home boasts its own bar, huge 30ft by 27ft living room, stylish kitchen diner and a hot tub, where Amanda has posed for several bikini pictures she’s posted on her Instagram page.

Amanda Holden (pictured) has put one of her family homes on the market seven years after she bought it for £3.5million 

The star often posts pictures on Instagram of her beautiful home, which she has been given a fabulous renovation by the star

The star often posts pictures on Instagram of her beautiful home, which she has been given a fabulous renovation by the star

The huge open-plan living room also displays eye-catching artwork, including a giant painting of a female astronaut and a £30,000 drawing by the Connor Brothers of a sultry woman in a silver dress smoking a cigarette

 The huge open-plan living room also displays eye-catching artwork, including a giant painting of a female astronaut and a £30,000 drawing by the Connor Brothers of a sultry woman in a silver dress smoking a cigarette

A source said: ‘Amanda loves her family home and is really proud of the work she’s done on it.

‘She’s had a real hand in the makeover and has enjoyed seeing her ideas come to life.

‘It will be a sad day when she moves out but Amanda can take comfort in the number of memories she’s created there.’

Amanda lives in the property with record producer husband Chris Hughes and their two daughters Lexi, 16, and Hollie, 10. 

After buying the home in 2015, herself and Chris described the mansion as their ‘forever home’ and Amanda admitted ‘badgering’ its former owner to sell it to them for years until they finally relented.

The couple also own a holiday home in the Cotswolds, which they have been renovating over the past year.

Heart FM DJ Amanda has spoken of her love of interior design

Heart FM DJ Amanda has spoken of her love of interior design

Amanda recently added a glamorous outhouse to the Surrey property where another bar and the hot tub are located, set upon a large wooden decking area, close to a palm tree she planted in honour of Sir Captain Tom Moore.

The garden room also includes a log burner and comfy sofas, which Amanda says are perfect for a ‘sneaky afternoon disco nap.’

The Heart FM DJ renovated her bespoke Wilson Fink kitchen during lockdown, adding new cupboards and worktops, plus mirrored tiles on the walls.

She also has three disco ball-style lights, worth £850 each, hanging over her breakfast bar.

And her quirky taste is exemplified by pineapple-themed accessories dotted around the property, including dark navy and pineapple-print wallpaper and a £125 Graham and Green pineapple lamp.

The huge open-plan living room also displays eye-catching artwork, including a giant painting of a female astronaut and a £30,000 drawing by the Connor Brothers of a sultry woman in a silver dress smoking a cigarette under the caption ‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say come sit next to me.’

The mansion, which includes five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a study, is located behind two sets of private gates which lead onto a private road towards the house.

The driveway is big enough to hold several cars, which is convenient when Amanda hosts her showbiz parties.

Speaking about her home to House Beautiful, Amanda revealed it was important their Surrey property didn’t feel like ‘a show home’

She said: ‘We have two little girls and don’t want them feeling that they’re treading on eggshells.’

Amanda’s passion for interior design has led to her landing a new TV show with pal Alan Carr in which the pair be doing up a property in Italy.

The series will air on the BBC after she pitched the idea to the broadcaster.

Amanda admits herself and husband Chris have so many clothes, they turned a room into a walk-in wardrobe – inspired by her favourite TV show.

She says: ‘I’m a huge Sex And The City fan and Chris did a Mr Big and turned a whole room into my wardrobe.

‘Except, he didn’t leave a pair of Manolos at the end… but he arranged everything else. It’s something I’ve always dreamt of.

‘There’s a remote-controlled mirror that goes up and down and lights up – it’s amazing.’

The star has taken to Instagram and posted photos of her on dreamy summer evenings relaxing her garden which includes a hot tub set upon a large wooden decking area, close to a palm tree she planted in honour of Sir Captain Tom Moore

The star has taken to Instagram and posted photos of her on dreamy summer evenings relaxing her garden which includes a hot tub set upon a large wooden decking area, close to a palm tree she planted in honour of Sir Captain Tom Moore

Speaking about her efforts to lovingly renovate her home, house proud Amanda explained: 'I am house proud, but I've got two kids, two dogs and a cat, so it's a family house. Everything is washable and wipeable.'

Speaking about her efforts to lovingly renovate her home, house proud Amanda explained: ‘I am house proud, but I’ve got two kids, two dogs and a cat, so it’s a family house. Everything is washable and wipeable.’

The buyer lucky enough to be able to afford Amanda's sprawling home will be able to relax in this stunning stand alone bath

The buyer lucky enough to be able to afford Amanda’s sprawling home will be able to relax in this stunning stand alone bath

The en-suite bathroom is just off the master bedroom where Amanda has frequently posted enviable pictures on her socials

The en-suite bathroom is just off the master bedroom where Amanda has frequently posted enviable pictures on her socials

And the TV favourite also concedes she’s a clean freak, meaning every service on the ground floor can be wiped fresh.

Speaking to The Mirror, she explained: ‘I am house proud, but I’ve got two kids, two dogs and a cat, so it’s a family house. Everything is washable and wipeable.

‘It’s so open plan my littlest can cycle her bike around. ‘I don’t have carpets on the ground floor – and this is disgusting – but I was doing an interview a while ago and my puppy pooed on the floor during the chat.

‘But you don’t worry if you have wooden floors. Two words: wipe clean.’

Amanda, who designed a homeware range for shopping network QVC, is so into interior design she believes it could eventually become a day job – if she ever loses her looks.

She added: ‘I want this to be a legacy. When my face falls off and all the telly work dries up, this is actually where I want to be.’ 

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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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