Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Leasehold enfranchisement II

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Readers may recall that I went for a meeting last month at Wandsworth's Home Ownership Unit. I met with a Mr John Watts, Deputy Head of Divisional Support (Professional Services). Mr Carl Lacey, the man I'd spoken to before, was also present.

It turns out that my 'block' is well-known to Mr Watts, and has presented something of an administrative headache for Wandsworth for many years due to anomalies in the service charge structure. There have been meetings on this very subject, and the problem remains unresolved. I don't entirely understand the problem myself, but I'll explain as best I can.

The 'block' of which my flat is part was formerly three separate terraced houses. The ground floor has been laterally converted so that there are only two ground floor flats, and six flats (two per house) on the upper floors. The service charge should have been apportioned between eight flats, i.e. approximately 12% per unit; however, my lease states that I pay 50%. I haven't been paying 50% of the eight flats, but 50% of my 'house' (even though there is no separate freehold 'house'). I think there are other incorrect percentages on other leases (but not all of them). The end result is that Wandsworth have been collecting, I think, 137% of the service charge. Mr Watts said I was probably due for a refund.

In short, selling the freehold would entirely solve the problem, as we could issue new leases for everyone. So Wandsworth are, in theory, keen to sell if (but only if) three other leaseholders are willing to join me in the purchase. As a public body, different laws apply and they are not free to sell to whoever they choose. This now makes sense; otherwise, it's backhander heaven, selling off cheap freeholds to chums, etc.

At the time, I felt briefly optimistic about getting other leaseholders on board, as although I have a 125+ year lease, the majority of leases are around the 71 year mark, meaning the resale value will very soon drop, and Mr Watts estimated that the cost of extending the lease would be similar to the share of freehold purchase were everyone to participate. I think I was also encouraged by Mr Watts, who was very different to my previous experience of Wandsworth officials, being helpful, professional and positive. He kindly offered to write to the other leaseholders. That happened over three weeks ago; no feedback as yet, except from my downstairs neighbours who are pro-purchase. I think I'll put a note through people's doors giving them a push, but I somehow sense general apathy (though it's quite likely me projecting my own apathy - the entire Wandsworth experience has slowly ground me down to the point where it's hard to imagine feeling positive about anything for very long).