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PROPERTY CLINIC: Do I have to pay the extra 940 a month service charge the council is demanding for roof repairs to my flat's block?

  • Leaseholders claim they have been asked for an extra service charge of 941.67 a month for a year from Hounslow Council
  • The money is said to be for a planned re-roofing project
  • Hounslow Council has confirmed it is the freeholder and has responded that it is following 'due process'

I own a leasehold flat and received a letter out of the blue from our freeholder Hounslow Council about a planned re-roofing with estimated costs of 11,300 for each leaseholder.

The costs are being added to our service charge, producing a 941.67 increase each month for a year, starting from April 2017. We're unable to get clear answers to our questions about the extra costs. Can we appeal?

What can leaseholders do if they want to challenge expensive roof repairs proposed by a freeholder?

What can leaseholders do if they want to challenge expensive roof repairs proposed by a freeholder?

MailOnline's property expert Myra Butterworth said: 'There are certain things you need to check first, such as what your lease says.

If Hounslow can carry out the work under the terms of the lease, but it does not consult properly and its failure to do so ends up costing leaseholders money, it will not be able to claim the extra from you.

If you think the charge being made for the roof is out of proportion to the work done, you can challenge it in the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).

We spoke to a legal expert to find out where you stand.

Alexander Bastin, a barrister at Hardwicke, says: 'It is a fact of life that buildings must be maintained as the years and weather take their toll.

'Year-in, year-out there will be minor repairs that need doing but periodically your landlord will need to carry out major works such as roof replacement. Almost invariably it is leaseholders who pay for such works through the service charge they pay under the terms of their lease.

'The first thing you must do is check that your lease not only requires Hounslow to repair the roof (if it does not, collectively you would have to organise and pay for it but at least you would have control over the process) but also permits Hounslow to recover the cost from the leaseholders through the service charge. It is highly likely that it can do both.

'Either way, so far you only have an estimate for the cost of the work.

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'The second issue is Hounslow's compliance with the law which requires it to consult leaseholders before carrying out works costing more than 250 per leaseholder.

'Hounslow appears to be complying given that in May it sent you a Notice of Intention to Carry Out Qualifying Works and invited you to make written observations which you did this is the first step in the statutory consultation process.

'It should serve a further notice on you once it has considered any observations made and obtained quotes from contractors. It is only once tenders for the work have been submitted and the professional fees of those supervising the works have been added that the cost to each leaseholder will be known. If Hounslow does not consult properly and its failure to do so ends up costing leaseholders money, it will not be able to claim the extra from you.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Southwark…

First-time buyers in south London's Nunhead are reportedly set to defy a 36,000 major works scheme set by Southwark council.

The case of Charlie Johnson and his partner Fran buying a flat in the area and then three months after moving in during November 2015 were hit by a major works upgrade to the building was highlighted on leaseholdknowledge.com.

The bill now comes to 36,000 and the couple told BBC R4's You and Yours programme that it was excessive and that they cannot pay it.

The maintenance is for a new balcony, new windows and a roof.

'Thirdly, the law imposes a restriction on what your landlord can claim from you: whatever costs Hounslow incurs must be reasonably incurred and the work done to a reasonable standard.

'If you think the charge being made for the roof is out of proportion to the work done, you can challenge it in the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).

'You will, however, need good evidence as to what, like-for-like, the work really ought to cost so as to demonstrate to the Tribunal that Hounslow's charge is wrong. The Tribunal has very limited power to order a party to pay the costs of proceedings before it but do bear in mind that your lease may give Hounslow a contractual right of recovery directly from you.

'So, in principal Hounslow can proceed as it is but there may well be grounds for challenge. However, the law and procedure surrounding service charges is pretty complex and Hounslow will have teams of lawyers to take advice from.

'I strongly suggest that you take at least some initial legal advice, whether from a solicitor or even a barrister under the Bar's Public Access Scheme to get you heading in the right direction. Consider clubbing together with your fellow leaseholders and sharing the cost.'

Hounslow Council was given the reader's full details, including her name, full address, when she bought the property and how much extra a month she was being asked to pay.

Councillor Katherine Dunne, cabinet member for housing, Hounslow Council, initially responded, saying: 'Without having the full details available described by your reader, we can only ascertain that the works in question may involve more than just roofing.'

'As with any leasehold planned works, we will follow due process which involves issuing an initial estimate of the value of the planned works to the leaseholder subject to the work being competitively tendered and then re-issuing the leaseholder with an actual cost once this process is completed.'

MailOnline then went back to Cllr Dunne to say that this didn't make sense given that the council had been given the full details, and she then changed her statement.

Cllr Dunne said: 'The budget estimate provided by the building consultants employed by Hounslow Council, is an estimated figure currently, until the actual figures are established through the competitive tendering process.

'However, the works described by the leaseholder involves more than just roofing. It also includes the re-pointing of chimneys and renewal of flashings, all rain water goods and the replacement of all soffits and fascia's. There also needs to be an upgrading of the roof insulation in accordance with building regulations and renewal of the porch cover.

'All required works will be subject to competitive tendering and the leaseholder will be advised of actual costs when the tender and its value are returned. All tenders are required to comply with Hounslow Council's specifications and health and safety obligations.'

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