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.
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.