How res­i­dents can join forces to get the most from apart­ments

Peo­ple power has im­proved the build­ing and boosted prop­erty val­ues at this apart­ment block in Leeds. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Use­ful con­tacts: www.lease-ad­vice.org www.arma.org.uk www.ed­dis­ons.com

COM­PLAINTS about the man­age­ment of apart­ment blocks are com­mon and flat own­ers fre­quently moan that they don’t see much for their money.

Ser­vice charges for lease­hold flats can range from £500 to £15,000 a year, which is sup­posed to pay for re­pairs to and up­keep of the build­ing and com­mu­nal ar­eas.

But when the bills popped through the let­ter­boxes at Lang­tons Wharf in Leeds city cen­tre, res­i­dents had ev­ery right to feel ag­grieved.

The shabby paint­work, dated blue and yel­low walls, missing slates and grubby cor­ri­dors had re­ally be­gun to rile them,

“The man­age­ment com­pany was ap­pointed by the de­vel­oper af­ter the three blocks were com­pleted in 1992, but we were very dis­sat­is­fied with them. We com­plained all the time and at one point we even or­gan­ised a dep­u­ta­tion plead­ing with them to do what they were be­ing paid for. Noth­ing was done, which was very frus­trat­ing,” says apart­ment owner and RTM di­rec­tor Tony O’Reilly.

The cat­a­lyst for change was the 2004 Right to Man­age leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing flat own­ers to form their own man­age­ment com­pa­nies, pro­vid­ing at least half agreed.

Tony and a group of fel­low own­ers ral­lied and formed a limited com­pany with seven di­rec­tors five years ago and Lang­tons Wharf Right to Man­age is now cel­e­brat­ing af­ter a ma­jor re­vamp. They started by ap­point­ing a new man­ag­ing agent, Spring­house, which they’re very pleased with. Spring­house take care of the day -to-day du­ties in­clud­ing refuse col­lec­tion, clean­ing, CCTV, gar­den main­te­nance and ser­vice charge col­lec­tion un­der the watch­ful eye of the Lang­tons Wharf com­mit­tee.

The com­mu­nal ar­eas have been re­dec­o­rated out­side and in­side, flood de­fences im­proved, a satel­lite sys­tem in­stalled, lifts im­proved and new en­try doors have been put in.

Tony O’Reilly, a busi­ness con­sul­tant, says: “Things have im­proved dra­mat­i­cally and the in­te­rior looks fan­tas­tic. We took ad­vice from an in­te­rior de­signer and have sil­ver and bronze wall­pa­per and trees in the re­cep­tion area.

“It’s a re­mark­able change yet we’re all pay­ing roughly the same fee of £400 a quar­ter, so we have def­i­nitely got more for our money and we even have some in re­serve for un­ex­pected re­pair costs.”

He adds “The RTM com­mit­tee holds reg­u­lar meet­ings and we keep in touch with other res­i­dents via email and a news­let­ter and we’re about to launch a web­site.”

The com­mit­tee has also adopted a zero tol­er­ance ap­proach to anti-so­cial be­hav­iour, which has been highly suc­cess­ful.

“We have worked closely with West York­shire Po­lice, meet­ing on a monthly ba­sis and where there are prob­lems in the sur­round­ing area they pri­ori­tise them and the re­sults have been re­mark­able,” says Tony.

“If we’ve had any bad be­hav­iour from ten­ants in the of ARMA (As­so­ci­a­tion of Res­i­den­tial Man­ag­ing Agents), says when it works well it has huge ben­e­fits, but there are pit­falls. “What some­times hap­pens is that res­i­dents are so pre-oc­cu­pied with get­ting rid of the bad guys that they don’t plan enough and are un­aware of what it means to take con­trol,” says David.

“Af­ter the eu­pho­ria wears off ap­a­thy sets in. It’s par­tic­u­larly cum­ber­some to self-man­age a block and try to or­gan­ise ev­ery­thing from re­pairs to clean­ing and col­lect­ing un­paid fees. There is also a lot of leg­is­la­tion to com­ply with, which is why it’s eas­ier to ap­point your own man­ag­ing agent. I strongly rec­om­mend any­one look­ing into Right to Man­age to do their home­work.”

Gra­ham Bates, a di­rec­tor at Leeds-based Ed­dis­ons Res­i­den­tial, which has a man­age­ment ser­vice, says: “There is ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong with lease­hold­ers opt­ing for a ‘right to man­age’ but while this gives a greater de­gree of con­trol, most will still want to ap­point a good man­ag­ing agent as it can be very time-in­ten­sive, es­pe­cially look­ing af­ter a larger block of apart­ments.

“It is equally vi­tal to have the ex­per­tise to en­sure that all the health and safety re­quire­ments are met since in many cases these are le­gal obli­ga­tions.”

He adds: “It is also im­por­tant for your man­ag­ing agent to be on site reg­u­larly. We man­age four build­ings at Clarence Dock where we have staff on site twice ev­ery week. We have also started an evening ‘surgery’ once a month so own­ers can come and talk about any is­sues.

“De­vel­op­ers of­ten in­sisted on set­ting low ser­vice charges when build­ings were first com­pleted and in many cases these charges were un­re­al­is­tic with no al­lowance for proper up­keep – lease­hold­ers and man­ag­ing agents need to work to­gether to re­solve this.” blocks then we stamp on it im­me­di­ately.”

Hi­lary Benn, who has lived at Lang­tons Wharf since be­com­ing a Leeds MP 11 years ago, praised the ini­tia­tive: “I en­joy liv­ing here tremen­dously and RTM have done a won­der­ful job in man­ag­ing af­fairs. It’s a big job – it’s fine build­ing places, but they need look­ing af­ter and that’s ex­actly what’s go­ing on here.”

Tak­ing con­trol has re­quired com­mit­ment and, for­tu­nately, Lang­tons has a high per­cent­age of long-term owner oc­cu­piers. Their hard work has been well worth the ef­fort.

Lang­tons Wharf flats have out­per­formed the mar­ket and in­creased in value this year by five per cent. Two-bed flats over­look­ing the river are now worth over £200,000.

“It’s seen as very de­sir­able place to live, which we are very pleased about,” says Tony.

Only about 10 per cent of lease­hold blocks have taken up the Right to Man­age with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess.

David Hewett, chief ex­ec­u­tive

PEO­PLE POWER: The Lang­tons Wharf RTM di­rec­tors, from left, are; Jon Hed­ley, Lizzi Lind­ley, Joseph Downey, Neil Thomas, Hi­lary Benn MP, Paul Mid­dle­ton and Tony O’Reilly.

SOUGHT AF­TER: Lang­tons Wharf in Leeds city cen­tre.

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