Friday, 23 January 2009

Me -v- Wandsworth Council: The Backstory


* * * * *

I live in the London Borough of Wandsworth, in a two-bedroom Victorian flat I bought in early 2006. Unfortunately, the freeholder happens to be Wandsworth Council. 

This is my story.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE
The Council, the Freeholder and Landlord of the Victorian leasehold property known as 'my flat'
Ms Parris, Estate Manager in the Housing Department responsible for leasehold matters
Mr Crawley, Senior Estate Manager of the Housing Department and Ms Parris's superior
Trufax, Me, Leaseholder and miserable pawn in the shenanigans
The Council Technician, a mysterious Council employee who only appeared once, yet plays an important role as The One Who Wanted The Repointing Done
The Chief Executive, head honcho of Wandsworth Council and the last stage on the labyrinthine complaints procedure so beloved of local government

* * * * *

It all began just after I bought the flat. It came with planning permission for a roof terrace on a flat roof at the rear. I also wanted to move the kitchen to the front of the flat to create an open-plan kitchen/sitting room, which involved removing half a (non-supporting) wall between the existing sitting room and an adjoining second bedroom.

So, in
April 2006 I contacted Ms Parris to seek Landlord’s consent. My letter included a description of the alterations, home-made plans of the new kitchen layout, and a copy of the planning permission. Ms Parris called to arrange a site visit and came round in May, had a look, said it was all fine and to send her the Building Control Approval Certificate when we were done. She'd then arrange for a letter to be attached to the lease giving Landlord's consent. Naturally, I believed her. It all seemed very straightforward. *laughs cynically*

Ms Parris was accompanied on the site visit by The Council Technician, who confirmed, when we were inspecting the site of the proposed roof terrace, that the roof ridge needed repointing. It was agreed by Ms Parris that my builders should carry out this minor work, I would pay for the work in full, send her the receipted invoice, and she would arrange for a 50% refund, as communal maintenance works are shared by my two downstairs neighbours.

In due course, I sent Ms Parris the Certificate and a copy of the invoice for £250. No response. I wrote again. And again. And again. I left phone messages (Ms Parris was never at her desk). In short, by
July 2008 – over two years after my initial request for Landlord’s consent – I had written eight letters to Ms Parris and hadn't had a single reply except for her initial phone response in April 2006, and a solitary voicemail message in the latter quarter of 2007.  

* * * * *

On 17th July 2008 I finally complained to the Director of Housing, Roy Evans, and after a target-hitting letter of acknowledgement, and one saying the matter required ‘further investigation’, Mr Crawley replied (I assumed on behalf of Mr Evans) in a letter dated 22nd August. He said there was no record of the plans, certificates, my letters, etc on file. He did not apologize for or explain their loss. Nor did he mention Ms Parris. (I assumed she’d been sacked but when I rang to check in October 2008 I discovered she is still a council employee).

Mr Crawley noted I had carried out alterations ‘
but that [I had] not obtained [Landlord’s] consent for the works’, ignoring the significant detail of my dealings with Miss Parris. He said retrospective consent for the alterations would be granted on production of copies of the following:
  • Details of the contractors that undertook the work
  • Contractors Health and Safety Statement
  • Contractors Public Liability Insurance (must be in excess of £5 million)
  • Specification of what works were carried out, illustrating how the property looked before and what it now looks like
  • Method statement explaining how the works were undertaken
Needless to say, I didn't have these documents, or a formal specification, and didn't know WTF a method statement is. The builders were a bunch of Lithuanians to whom I'd mostly paid cash and sacked in the end when they stopped showing up for the decorating part of the work, I think because they’d underquoted for the job and had more lucrative fish to fry elsewhere. We didn’t part on the best of terms.

* * * * *

In my letter dated 4th September 2008, I told Mr Crawley I was unable to provide the documents requested, given the lateness of the request, i.e. two and a half years after works commenced, that such a request was unreasonable in the circumstances, and that it was not my problem that Miss Parris had failed to keep records or request further documentation at the appropriate time.

I pointed out that I had acted throughout with due diligence, that Building Control and the Planning department had records of the works, and gave details of what Miss Parris had said on the site visit on 10th May 2006.

Mr Crawley's reply of 16th September apologized ‘if [I was] misinformed or if there was a misunderstanding’ then went on to repeat verbatim his demands for the documents listed above, adding that if I failed to comply ‘the Council may be forced to take legal action’ and I might also ‘have difficulty selling [my] property’. He also wanted a copy of the invoice for the repointing, upon receipt of which he would be ‘able to further consider the reimbursement of 50%’. 

Please note the graciousness of his consideration to reimburse me for works dictated and authorized by council employees, as well as the helpful and constructive threat of legal action.

* * * * *

I was so angry that it took me a while before I felt calm enough to resume the correspondence. Eventually, I wrote back on 28th October 2008:

Further to your letter dated 16th September, as you do not appear willing to resolve the issue of Landlord’s consent for the works undertaken, I have no alternative but to take this complaint to the Chief Executive whom I trust will take a more constructive approach than threatening me with legal action’.

I enclosed a copy of the subcontractor's invoice for the repointing and requested payment within 10 working days.

Which brings us more or less up to date. I am in possession of the latest letter (18th November) from Mr Crawley. He firstly apologized ‘if [his] request came across as threatening’, which was interesting given that the threat referred to in my letter was clearly the threat of legal action, not the request for paperwork. He then totally ignored my statement as regards taking my complaint to the Chief Executive and again listed the ‘required’ documents.

He also thanked me for sending the invoice but wanted ‘further information' about the roof repointing and ‘the nature of the works…undertaken’. 

*le sigh*

Two months have passed, and it's my turn to reply to Mr Crawley. This time, the gloves are off.


4 comments:

  1. Monseñor Roberto Diego Papalina Campesino del Campo24 January 2009 at 17:17

    You must show no mercy with these chumps. They’re funded from the public purse and need reminding of that. And it won't let me post an image so a link will have to suffice:

    http://i40.tinypic.com/zo7tz9.jpg

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, how I love the word chump!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Rest assured, Monseñor, I will be merciless in my pursuit. However, it's arguable that in this case the Council are not acting in their role as public servants but merely as my legal Landlord.

    ReplyDelete
  4. In my dealings with the 'chumps' of Brent Council, I have learned the hard way that it is very important to created an irrefutable record of all dealings with these types, either on paper or as an audio of video recording. Normally, they cannot be trusted to act honourably, and will screw you senseless at the slightest opportunity.

    ReplyDelete

Be as rude and sarcastic as you like