May 01, 2017 Last Updated 10:20 AM, Apr 28, 2017

Open consultation: Social housing landlord responsibilities

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Nigel Goddard, Director of Building Surveying, Pellings LLP talks to Public Sector Build Journal about the responsibilities of social housing landlords, and the requirement to provide clarity when embarking on major refurbishment works.

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There is nothing more emotive than stories about leaseholders receiving bills totalling tens of thousands of pounds for repairs and renovations to former council housing blocks that they neither expected nor can afford.

Yet this has become headline news in recent years as former council housing estates, including properties sold off under “Right to Buy” legislation during the Thatcher Government, are being upgraded under the “Decent Homes” programme which councils or ALMOs as freeholders seek to carry out.

The case of Florence Bourne who died at the age of 93 believing she owed Newham Council almost £50,000 was widely publicised because her constituency MP happens to be community secretary Eric Pickles.

This was the precursor to a consultation document called Protecting Local Authority Leaseholders from Unreasonable Charges published by the Department for Communities and Local Government last autumn which would put a cap of £10,000 on leaseholder works on homes outside London and £15,000 on homes within London.

Clearly, there is the need for a much better relationship between many local authority landlords and their leaseholders especially, as it seems, they are coming off worse. Research by Inside Housing magazine found that landlords often come out worse where cases go to tribunals; in 89 separate tribunals in 2013 landlords wrote off at least some costs following 45 of those cases with the total touching £300,000.

Lack of awareness

Inevitably there are always going to be challenges where there is a confusing pattern of ownerships in mixed-tenure blocks ranging from first to third generation “right to buy” owners, investors who care little about up-keep providing the rent keeps coming in, to those who continue on as tenants.

While there has been the inevitable lack of awareness from leaseholders on what they were getting themselves into during the boom times where mortgages and subsidised purchase were readily available and, perhaps, a wilful disregard for repairs clauses in leases, there should still be a duty of care responsibility by landlords to ensure clarity and management of expectations when dealing with leaseholders.

Where the costing of works are concerned, leaseholders will require clarity and the ability to become involved in seeking fairness in the tendering process. Also, they will have little regard for long term local authority framework agreements covering borough wide contracting, unless they can see how costs directly affect their specific properties, and ‘value’ can be demonstrated beyond lowest price wins.

Quality execution

Langdon house was built in the late 1950s and is situated on the Brownfield Estate in Poplar comprising 66% tenants and 33% leaseholders. Refurbishment works to the main building and the associated public realm comprises the first major upgrade scheme on the estate, and sets a high standard for further projects planned over the next 10 years. The design has been led by extensive consultation with residents and has not only delivered an exceptional internal and external refurbishment, but has also created a high-quality public space that incorporates many features out of the ordinary within an inner city open development.

Planning permission was granted in 2011 for the external refurbishment consisting of the provision of new entrance doors, installation of cladding on facing elevations, new aluminium windows, handrails and balustrades, new paving, planting, and parking facilities and external lighting and landscape features.

An Estate Board was established comprising tenants, leaseholders, and local stakeholders to ensure robust consultation throughout the project and beyond. Due to the complexity of the project a residents’ sub-group was established to deal with the regeneration of the estate.

In addition to the core groups Poplar HARCA also consulted with the wider estate using a variety of consultation techniques. As a first step they set up a drop-in session to inform the residents on the proposed works and used this as an opportunity to weed out any potential issues that might arise and any initial concerns.

Open dialogue

Separate drop-in sessions were held specifically for leaseholders to address their concerns. Alongside this presentations were also made to the Estate Board. Display boards were used to present proposals and provide colour choices before carrying out internal refurbishment works to tenants’ homes.

Drop-in sessions were then used to obtain feedback, log orders and programme the works. Very high satisfaction levels were achieved from all residents for works undertaken in their homes.

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