Retirement flat owners support action against unfair charges

Resident representatives from 10 retirement estates in South Devon attended the Leaseholder Association ‘Unfair Lease Charges’ event held in Exeter on 28th of April.

In his welcome address LA Director Dudley Joiner told attendees they all shared one thing in common, namely properties that were built by McCarthy & Stone and leases that included high ground rents, charges for the use of the guest room, charges for the on-site warden or scheme manager’s flat and exit fees on the sale of the property. He told the audience that the LA had received a letter about the Exeter event from solicitor’s acting for John McCarthy and in light of this he wished to make it clear that LA published statements made about the various charges in McCarthy & Stone leases were the opinions of the LA based upon the facts and upon statements made by John McCarthy in his book ‘Building a Billion’. He read various extracts from the book and said he would leave it to his audience to form their own opinions. He concluded by summarizing the past investigations into lease charges by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Law Commission and explained the options available to challenge charges that are unfair or unreasonable. He said the LA did not propose to go into legal details from the platform but their solicitor and leasehold specialist Margarita Mossop, Mayfield Law, would be available after the meeting to answer questions.

LA executive Mark Spall addressed the meeting on the background and objectives of the LA. Mark explained that before joining the LA in 2014 he had worked for 15 years at Age UK (previously Age Concern) providing advice, information and mediation services to leaseholders in retirement properties. He said he left Age UK when his department was inexplicably closed down and leasehold support was discontinued and the LA aimed to fill this vacuum by providing leasehold services unavailable elsewhere. He summarized the limited functions of organizations such as the government-owned Leasehold Advisory Service and the Association of Retirement Housing Managers, which unlike the LA also act for landlords and managers and neither of which offer on-going support or conciliation services. He said the help available from the Property Ombudsman was very restrictive and focused mostly on administrative issues and not money matters. Mark made reference to the recent report from the Competition and Markets Authority, which highlighted that few buyers of leasehold property understood their leases or their rights and obligations as owners. He said the LA was targeting early education of flat buyers and encouraged better communication between leaseholders and property managers to prevent resolvable issues escalating into prolonged legal disputes.

Nick Bignell of the Right to Manage Federation addressed the audience on the benefits of RTM, which was introduced in 1997 in a paper entitled ‘An End to Feudalism’. Nick summarized the comprehensive help and guidance offered by the RTMF to assist leaseholders in the democratic management selection process. He said the RTMF had helped over 7,000 flat owners acquire RTM and appoint a management company of their own choosing. About half of these were in retirement estates and acquired RTM through the RTMF at little or no cost. He quoted from the CMA Market Study published in December 2014 which supported the principle of RTM and concluded that leaseholders are more satisfied where RTM is exercised due to the greater control they have over their property management.

In summary, Dudley Joiner thanked all attendees for their support and enthusiasm for the work LA was doing to help retired leaseholders and encouraged everyone to join in the collective action against unfair and unreasonable leasehold charges.