It can also appoint managers of leasehold properties when the landlords’ managers are not acceptable. Leasehold valuation tribunals started operating in 1997 whereas previously county courts handled these disputes.
Disputes often arise over service charges. The idea of service charges is to ensure that the property and particularly the common parts (roofs for example), which are not the responsibility of any one tenant, are kept in good repair.
Whereas individual tenants may neglect necessary repair work, to the eventual detriment of all the tenants in the building, a good responsible landlord/managing agent will ensure that the property is properly maintained.
There are safeguards in the legislation which are there to prevent landlords/agents from improving the building at the expense of the tenants by carrying out improvements (as opposed to necessary maintenance and repairs) and adding the cost to the service charges.
Sometimes it’s difficult to make repairs without actually improving as well. New methods and materials such as double glazing mean that any replacement window system will actually be an improvement.
It will be necessary for the tenants to employ a building surveyor to determine for sure whether any change actually constitutes an improvement in law.
Tenants have the power to stop projects before they commence by applying to the county court for a declaration which would confirm one way or the other whether the work is likely to be a repair or an improvement.
The legal test of reasonableness ultimately applies in service charge disputes regarding repairs: this test requires the landlord to show that any costs were reasonably incurred and furthermore, that the work was carried out to a reasonable standard.
The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 will change some of the above by applying the test of reasonableness to improvements.
The Leasehold Advisory Service (Tel: 020 7490 9580) can help in these matters.