Brockley Deep Throat

Brockley Central has been contacted by a reader who wants to seek the advice of the BC community of leaseholders affected by the Council's PFI contract. For reasons that will become clear, we are protecting his / her identity...

"Hi Nick, I got your email address from 'Brockley Central'. I live in a flat in the Conservation Area in a converted Victorian property and am unsure about the Regenter B3 Refurbishment Programme. Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity of attending their 'open meetings' and am wondering if you can start a discussion on the blog.

As a long-time Leaseholder in a large block, 2 flats of which are still Council Tenant occupied and 2 flats Leaseholder occupied, my main question is whether the smart money is on tactfully avoiding responding to the Regenter letters asking me to agree an appointment for a surveyor to visit my property.

I don't think there are any major repairs required and my concern is that Lewisham and Regenter will use the opportunity that there are two Leaseholders in situ to charge significant amounts of money for a share in the 'repairs and refurbishments' they may undertake including new windows, scaffolding, new roof, painting etc. The counter argument of course is that I should contact Regenter to benefit from potentially a discounted refurbishment that will ultimately put value on the property (it is a bit scruffy - council front door, needs a paint job, hallway needing a facelift etc.).

I also assumed that rightfully surely Regenter's priority should be improving low quality social housing in the borough. I am wondering if other readers have any advice.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thought this was a follow-on to the story posted on April 1st

APP&P troll said...

they know where you live, how are you going to avoid them?

If the property is collectively maintained, they most likely are entitled to enter and inspect your flat to ensure the building is adequately maintained.

Headhunter said...

I don't believe the freeholder has the right just to enter your flat at will. Under leasehold rules, the freeholder owns the outside of the building/windows, the land and the communal areas, but they are not responsible for refurbishing the interior of your flat which is your property and cannot enter to check if you have tasteful wallpaper and soft furnishings! That's not within their remit!

However if surveyors need access to your flat to check for structural defects or whatever, if you fail to respond to their letters I'm sure they must be able to apply to the courts to gain entry for the good of the whole building.

I doubt they'll just give up and go away if you ignore them!

Sue Luxton said...

Don't bury your head in the sand on this, or you may find yourself landed with a hefty bill for works that you haven't queried. Read your section 20 notice very carefully, challenge any works that you don't think need to be done and seek legal advice, such as through the Leaseholder's Advisory Service.

Leaseholders' costs should be proportionate to the total costs for works to your building, ie if you are one of 4 flats in a house, you are liable for 25% of the total cost of any works to communal parts of the building (eg roof repairs, but not your neighbour's kitchen). If you don't want Higgins to replace your windows etc, you can make alternative arrangements to get the work carried out, but you need to let them know this and to get their agreement.

Anonymous said...

If it's any consolation, I live in a flat in the c- area and have been landed with a 20k bill. I have had to put it on the mortgage, not the most financial reassuring thing to do, in this current economic climate.

Bea said...

I believe that a Leaseholder Committee is in the process of being set up that will represent their views to Regenter. Tressillian James knows more about this. Maybe he’ll post something.

There are some really nutty things with this whole thing e.g. apparently Regenter won't be painting window frames as these belong to the Council and it will cost extra money to do but expect the leaseholders to pay for the glass as this is their responsibility! They’ll only do it if there are no leaseholders in the building.

lb said...

Your lease will most likely include a covenant in which you agree to permit the freeholder to enter your property, upon reasonable notice, for the purposes of inspection, maintenance, etc. Not complying with this could place you in breach of the terms of your lease, so exercise caution.

Headhunter said...

Bloody hell! What on earth could they have been charging £20k for? Unless you're in a big block which has had some serious work done, including replacement of lifts ro something then £20k sounds way over the odds. You should query it.

When I lived in an ex council flat in Islington, people told me to expect a bill around the £10-15k mark for windows and replacement of 2 lifts in the building as well as general upgrading. I know that some people in the Spa Green estate in Islington were handed bills between £20-30k but that was to sensitively restore grade 1 listed Lubetkin designed social housing blocks.

A £20k for 1 flat in a Victorian conversion is just stupid, if indeed that's what you have.

lb said...

You'd be surprised. Replacing a roof, for example, using appropriate materials, including the cost of providing scaffolding - which is considerable - could easily produce a bill like that.

These big Victorian and Edwardian buildings may be essentially sturdy and look good, but they're often in need of serious work to bring them up to scratch, and the conservation area rules mean that you can't use any old materials to repair them.

Anonymous said...

Ib has summed it up. 60% of costs is scaffolding to provide access to replace the roof, welsh slate costs a fiver per slate. The rest is painting, decorating, repointing of bricks.

drakefell debaser said...

The Regenter B3 scheme is for propeties that are not 100% leasehold occupied and as you have a 50% leasehold situation you will fall into this scheme. The focus of the this is to improve the homes for those in social housing for example installing double glazing and this has to be uniform from my understanding. I am also a leaseholder however the 3 flats in our house (dark side) are all owner occupied so we had our sash windows replaced or repaired and the place repainted by a different company and the place looks good. The cost to each of us was around £900. It might not be as bad as you think and it will be far better to find out what is intended for your flat - you might approve.

Tressillian James said...

All those who are in blocks that are 100% leaseholder occupied, beware - Regenter has told us that you guys will also be included.

Last night, the Brockley PFI Leaseholder's Association was formed. If you have Lewisham counicl as your freeholder, you are very welcome, and would be very wise to get in contact with this group.

We have set up a committee working on all aspects of the PFI - we have workstreams looking at those who have had work done; the 'process' failures that have taken place so far and quality of work; 'the reasonableness' of charges and work; the legal situation; the financials - ie how we are to repay for costs incurred, as remortgaging is not acceptable in current climate; communciations; and also the matter of choice and legitmacy of the works the PFI want to do.

If you have had works done - do not remortagge of accept blindly your costs - take a look at the link the Sue Luxton provided and check if process has been followed - most people find they have not been consulted.

The Leaseholder's association can be a voice (and a powerful one) for us all - but we have just started up. However do not refrain from acting because you expect the Association to take care of things for you - it doesn't work that way.

The best thing I can advise is - respond to the PFI, and keep copies of everything from the letters you send tot he timeline it takes to them respond. Do not let anything slide but make sure you respond with any query or issue.

Meanwhile get involved with the Leaseholder's Association - tell other Brockley PFI Leaseholder's about it. We have found that Regenter haven't been giving us the details of all - a case of divide and conquer.

If you want more details on the Leaseholder's Forum, please e-mail alexdavis.music@gmail.com with your e-mail, address and other details. Alex is part of the team dealing with Communications.

We are making contacts with representatives of other leaseholders in areas of London who have challenged PFI costs successfully. However we need support - in numbers and also in people willing to help.

Tressillian James said...

LB - most of the bills for work up to 20 grand are just replacing windows and doors with double glazed UPVC units. We have had advice on scaffolding costs, for example, and they are grossly inflated.

There is also a 'professional fees' charge of £8000 - which the PFI have refused to breakdown. Industry specialists have told us that this should be at 12% of total cost (not the current 40%)if there should be these costs at all.

To the bloger who told us we might like the works - we agree - if the works coverewd any of the problems that the lack of council upkeep has produced in the flats. Lots of us want work - but we want the structual work to be done - not unecessary.

Also Drakefell - please note several leaseholders have had their own doubleglazing ripped out and replaced by the new. Please don't think you are immune from this. We brought up this point with the guys in the PFI - and they were insistent that you would be included.

Brockley Kate said...

James - I'm not a local leaseholder but I do know a bit about housing. My email address is on my personal blog, do drop me a line if there's anything I might be able to do to help.

Brockley Nick said...

@TJ - thanks for providing so much detail for everyone.

Headhunter said...

Certainly sounds like costs have been inflated as you say, James. Tiling with Welsh slate may cost a bit, but a bill of £60-80k for a building is ridiculous (assuming anonymous who was billed £20k lives in a converted building broken into 3 or 4 flats as is common in the cons area).

I looked into scaff costs to get some work done on the central heating flue at my last flat which was on the 4th floor. I was quoted around £1500-2000 or so to reach the 4th floor of a large block

Tressillian James said...

Indeed HH - and in a lot of the cases,where only windows are to be replaced, semi permanent scaffolding may not be needed: ladders or towers can do the trick, or the work could be carried out from the inside.

There are lots of issues - may complex. At the first leaseholders meeting there was about 60 leaseholders who attended - last night was for those who wanted to be active - we could do with more who are willing to be active.

However there are approx 900 leaseholders in Brockley who are affected - who are now managed under the PFI - and we think not all of those people have been communicated to and told about the leaseholder's assocaition - which was an activity that Regenter were meant to be carrying out.

So as I said before, if you are a Lewisham council leaseholder - get in touch with the organisation

JPM said...

You state that you are a 'long-time Leaseholder in a large block, 2 flats of which are still Council Tenant occupied and 2 flats Leaseholder occupied.'

I don't quite understand... are you saying that the block has just 4 flats, which does not sound big at all. Perhaps there are other flats and blocks and you have not mentioned these. However, if there are enough of you in the block then you can buy the freehold, thereby having a greater say about expenditure.

Do not 'tactfully' avoid responding to letters as this is not a tactic at all (in this instance).

A better tactic is pretending to go along with it, dumbly, then hitting them with a whammy of your own. Photograph and write down everything.

Tressilliana said...

Hoping this doesn't sound smug, as it certainly isn't meant to, but I'm so pleased we're not leaseholders. What a nightmare.

Why Welsh slate? When we had our roof replaced we went for the artificial slates which are much cheaper and look very similar. This is, I think, quite commonly done round here and breaks no Conservation Area rules.

Anonymous said...

James...
When I first read about this in the local press I was astonished at the "admin fees" £4,000 out of a total cost of £12,000.

I quiered this with a representive of Regenter and was told leaseholders would be given a break down of the "admin fees". Have to say I came away with the feeling their attitude was one of 'we're doing nothing illegal.'

Makes you wonder the amount of 'admin fees' taxpayers are providing.

Haven't residents in another part of Lewisham begun a court action which I believe has been or is about to take place?

I was looking at Lewisham Homes (the Council's management company) business plan and they say they are supposed refurb properties every 7 years but currently it's every 15 years.

If the lease or tennant agreement states the Landlord (ie council) will carry out redecoration etc and have failed to do so, is it worth persusing the council for a breach of the lease or reduction in costs due to their negligence?

As the council appointed Regenter is it worth putting down a question at full council asking if they feel if the "admin fees" are justifiable and should Regenter provide a break down.

-----
To the person who asked, you may ignore Regenter but they won't ignore you. Even if they don't carry out any work on your flat they will charge you work done on communal areas such as the roof, guttering, hallways, electrics etc.

Talk to other leaseholders in your building, talk to the tennants as well they may not like what's planned. Join the residents' association so you are better informed.

lb said...

Actually, the 'industry standard' management fee calculation used by local authorities is more like 10%, as far as I'm aware. This figure should be specified in the lease, subject to the lease allowing the levying of administration costs over and above the management fee.

The problem is that a standard lease will usually specify the adminstration costs as a default figure to be used if the freeholder does not employ a managing agent - a role filled by Regenter, in this case. It's also a fact that a calculation of 10-12% will not usually cover the true management costs of this type of project; so, if the agents can be bothered working out the true management costs (which, as a private company with profits to consider, they most assuredly will) they'll charge for all they can get.

I'd also advise you to lay your hands on a copy of the 1985 Housing Act if you can find one, you'll find the whole statutory basis in there.

As for the use of scaffolding, you'll rarely find companies beyond the size of a one-man operation using ladders for anything beyond painting nowadays - I suspect this is ultimately an insurance issue.

Tressillian James said...

Tressilliana - yes it does sound slightly smug 8-) but the information around the Welsh Slate is useful and one of the things we are looking into at the Association.

Anon - ues the residents over in Lee are taking their PFI to the Leaseholder's Valuation Tribunal.

We are persuing on the issue that the council have not looked a tthe properties in 15 years - thus resulting in larger scope of works. However, as I said before we are not against necessary works - we have bought our homes and sometimes are the only ones in theproperty who are concerned about its upkeep and maintenance. It is the unecessary ones, such as replacement windows, that are most concerning - in my case it would mean removing my Victorian windows with their original glass.

LB - we are not, and should not be paying for the management costs of the whole project - just the management costs of our individual part of it. 10% or 14% - this is ample for the managment costs of fitting some windows and doors - remember we are not paying for the setting up of Regenter, nor are we paying for the day-to-day running costs. We are charged yearly fees from the council - and this goes towards those sort of costs. Moreover - we are not there to provide the profits to a private company, above and beyond what it would cost to get a similar company to do the job - that should come out of the money they received fromt he council to run the PFI.

We said ladders and towers. The Brockley PFI has a large scope from the Terraces on Sandrock Road, to the conservation area, Ladywell, the estates, the westside etc. Some of these can be done using towers.

Monkeyboy said...

Donning my construction industry geek hat...

Work like this would be covered by Construction Design & Managment regulations (CDM) the Principle Contractor has to ensure that 'reasonable' (that word again)steps are taken to protect their staff. I doubt ladders would pass muster these days, towers could be used where scafolding is not practicable. Cost cannot be used as an excuse unless it can be show to be 'unreasonble'. Thats why you see complex scaffolding on lots of jobs these days where a ladders would have been used in the past.

The use of ladders are more or less banned for Tube work, we tend to use towers 'cos they are easy to errect in the 3hr window we have.

tyrwhitt michael said...

Donning my surveyor's hard hat

Its spelt Principal Contractor......

lb said...

I agree with you that you're "not there to provide profits to a private company". I'm just saying that in my experience of this area (which is fairly considerable, given that I work with closely related housing law, and on oaccasion with people who manage these kinds of projects) that management elements and 'professional fees' (e.g the cost of employing surveyors, engineers and the like) when fully costed quite regularly exceed the 10-14% band.

Now, the problem with all this is that where local authorities were on the whole happy to stick to 'industry standard' figures because a) that's what the leases specified where no agent was employed and b) working out the true costs was a time-consuming process, private companies employed as agents are quite happy to keep track of everything in order to recoup everything they spend.

My advice to you would simply be to get Regenter to provide full breakdowns of the fees they charge - which clearly you are doing anyway - but you will have a problem if they're able to show they've spent the money. Which they may well have.

The second problem is that the Decent Homes standard - which I suspect is behind all this feverish work by Regenter - doesn't take account of things like the possibility of retaining creaky old Victorian windows and woodwork (I happen to like them, but then again I don't mind draughts and rarely switch my heating on). It's the presence of this kind of legislation which means PFI is a profitable business for those who choose to enter it.

Tressillian James said...

Yes - but a) my windows are maintianed and not creaky 8-) and b) the Decent Homes Standard is an iniative not legislation. Lewisham Council will receive addtional money if it reaches a certain target. All well and good if they are bringing their social housing stock up to standards. The legal advice we have taken on this point seems to suggest that the Decent Homes Standard cannot be enforced onto leaseholders.

There is alos the fact that the Decent Homes Standard talks about Energy efficiancy - the Brockley PFI have decided to translate this as whacking in expensive UPVC windows and doors. They are not looking at other cheaper methods that may reach the target, such as loft insulation. There is a profit motive here. Remeber the profit is meant to come out of this in the relationship between the council and the PFI - not undertaking expensive unecessary work.

Also - they'll have to get a court order before I'll let 'em rip out the features that made me want to buy my home! 8-)

Monkeyboy said...

@TM...

Donning my dunces hat, you may well be right.

Headhunter said...

Surely the council won't allow uPVC windows an doors in the conservation area? That completely goes against their own guildelines re preserving the character of the area! Private home owners aren't allowed to install uPVC, how come Regenter is?

lb said...

It depends whether permitted development rights have been withdrawn or not, I expect. Anyone know whether this is the case here?

Headhunter said...

That would be galling to all those pivate homeowners/leaseholders in the conservation area who have been forced to pay huge prices for wood framed DG at the behest of the council (quite rightly IMO to maintain character), only to find that the council-freehold owned building next door has the delicate Victorian wooden frames replaced with ghastly fat framed plastic windows! Surely that in itself may be basis to halt Regenter in its tracks for a while? Conservation area rules must count for something

patrick1971 said...

Re ladders/scaffolding for window replacement. I currently live in a small local authority development; there are eight houses in my part, four of which are council and four private. The council recently replaced the wooden windows with double glazing. They put scaffolding up (for two storey modern houses!) and took FOUR WEEKS. One of the private houses had it done subsequently by a one-man local operation. He did it all from indoors or with a ladder, and took a day. Make of that what you will.

shb said...

Agreed - it seems nonsensical that the council would allow a contractor to flout its own regulations on such a massive scale. Judging by the amount of aluminium / uPVC windows already in the conservation area it seems they've given up trying to enforce those regulations, to the detriment of the area.

Headhunter said...

Looking at the uPVC already in place in the conservation area it has been put in before 2002, possibly in the 80s an 90s. You can tell because it does not have those ventilation slat things at the top of the window which has been legally required in all new DG since that year (as far as I know). I don't know of any uPVC going in since then....

Monkeyboy said...

Theres actually an odd clause in CDM regulations about domestic dwelling projects being exempt. Otherwise the HSE would have thousands of projects to audit.

A PFI type thing would defo fall under the regs though.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting!

Tressillian james said...

They won't be able to put UPVC in the conservation area - but if you're just out of it (say Algiers Road), they will - and you may have just bought your lovely Victorian flat.

In the case of the conservation area they will be ripping out the original windows and replacing with wooden double glazed units.

As I said I do not want them to take the original victorian glass that survuved the blitz - nor the wooden window frames that have gothic victorian detailing.

The residents association hopes to be fighting on all these fronts (both for residents outside the conservation area and those inside).

brockley mutha said...

the council's very own guidelines on conservation properties suggests real slate, but allows the use of artificial slate. however the doc makes it clear that upvc windows are not acceptable. so the suggestion that the roofs should be real welsh slate for authenticity and longevity, but that the windows should be upvc is completely at odds with its own policies.

surely the council has to keep to its own guidelines.

It's also a great shame that beautiful properties outside the conservation boundaries should be bastardised because the rules that govern conservation properties don't apply to them.

Richard Banks said...

Hi all

I missed the leaseholders meeting but would interested in finding out what was discussed. Is there a website with some minutes on which can read? Or an email address?

We are leaseholders on Brookbank Road which is a bit of a building site at the mo, with all the work going on.

They're replaced our windows with PVC, leaving in the nice stained glass sections at the front, which I'm very happy about. They've also re-tiled our roof completely and replace all the guttering.

The work has been a bit slow, but of high quality IMHO. They've still got some structural work to carry out on the property, also.

We've felt comforted all along by the fact that our contribution as leaseholders will be a maximum of £10k. Is said this quite clearly on the Section 20 notice from Higgins which came through ages ago with estimats for the work. Our estimate said £16k, but the FAQ page said our contribution is limited to £10k.

Can someone explain to me how/why some of you have reported bills of £20k ??? This would almost certainly bankrupt us, since we can't get a loan and can't add to mortgage. It's unfair of Lewisham to expect this of us in the current financial climate, anyway.

More urgently - we've just today received our annual service charges bill for 2008/9 from Pinnacle (who took over from Lewisham Homes from Sept 07) and it's TRIPLE the amount of last year's bill! Total cost last year - £130, this year £389. The main cost appears on the breakdown as "Building Repairs" which is nonsensical, given that the PFI work has pretty much replaced with new everything that could possibly need repairing on the outside of the house. So I don't see what repairs will be needed over the next 12 months. The "Management charge" has also more than doubled since last year.

Help!! Does anyone know what's going on there? Are they trying to recoup the costs of the PFI by other means??

Email: ricky and liz at gmail doctom (remove spaces etc).

brockley bobby said...

Thanks for all your comments, I am the afforementioned Leaseholder who posted the initial blog relating to the Regenter B3 PFI. I am now awating the visit of a surveyor and have recently received an estimate of £10,000 (payable by me) relating to repairs and refurbishment to the exterior of my property. You may be also interested to know, as I discovered at the Leaseholder's Association Meeting 11th June (join them if you are a Leaseholder)that most people's Leasehold Service Charge has also rocketed to over 350% since Regenter/Pinnacle has taken over the administration of the Service Charge from Lewisham. My bill has gone from £132 in 2007 to £482.

Tressillian James said...

@ Richard Banks - I don't know if you were at last night's meeting - but it is important that you query these charges IN WRITING, clearly stating that you are disputing them. You should also be requesting, as is your right under law, a written summary for the PFI of the 'Service Charge Accounts'. These must be supplied to you within 1 month. They should cover, amongst pother things:

- how the costs relate to the service charge demand, or if they will be included in a leter demand;

If no work has been undertaken the previous year - you should then question the estimate for this year's charges and its resonableness. Also request any rebate for the previous years' service charges that were not used.

You also have the right to question on reasonableness of all aspects; time (was it served within 60 days of the due date of 1st April); and if the service charges are over £250, consultation.

It would also be worth to question the insurance charge, as some reading of the law would suggest that EITHER the landlord charges OR the leaseholder. You should request a written summary of the insurance charges.

Be clear of the charges you are disputing and pay the ones you are not (ie. ground rent)

This is only my (unprofessional) advice. I would suggest you also get onto the Leaseholder's Advisory Service on the web. They have a phone line where you can receive free advice.

London Builders said...

Can’t understand why the council don’t seem to be considering less ugly (and presumably cheaper) alternatives to improve energy efficiency.

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