Landmark battle won by Worthing sheltered housing residents

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A GROUP of 40 sheltered housing leaseholders have won a landmark battle against paying for the notional rent of their warden’s flat through service charges.

Since 1986, this has cost the residents of Oakland Court, in Gratwicke Road, Worthing £137.000. The Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) decided to hear the case, which was led by one of the leaseholders, John Fenwick, 65, against the landlord, The Oakland Pension Fund.

John said: “The victory means a tremendous amount for the vast majority of people in sheltered accommodation who do not have access to specialist help when problems with leases arise.

“Thanks to MP Sir Peter Bottomley we were able to secure cost-free legal representation from the Bar Pro Bono Unit.”

In the time the case took come to the tribunal, two residents at Oakland Court, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, have died and three have gone into full-time nursing care.

Oakland Court, which has 45 flats, was built in 1985. As part of the planning consent, a warden’s flat had to be included, but there was no mention of leaseholders paying for this property in the lease. Residents were charged a notional rent on the warden’s flat of £4,760 a year, which rose to £5,776, as part of the sum they each paid for service charges.

Stephanie Smith, a specialist barrister instructed by the Bar Pro Bono Unit, referred the tribunal to other cases and similar schemes in which a notional rent for warden accommodation had been disallowed as a legitimate item in service charges relating to retirement properties.

The LVT found the rent was not a service charge and said the residents had been wrongly charged.

The Oakland Pension Fund was ordered to re-pay John’s £350 fee for launching the action, as well as paying its own legal costs.

John said: “It’s been a roller coaster, but we are pleased with the ruling. We now wait to hear if the landlord appeals, or its re-payment proposals for us.”

Sir Peter Bottomley said: “It is shocking that the pension fund or its beneficiaries should have claimed money wrongly from elderly leaseholders. I cannot believe that other freeholders could have backed this long-running and unnecessarily expensive and protracted process. If the beneficiaries did not know, or did not approve of, the use and reuse of legal actions to appeal clear, just decisions, they should have known and they should have told their lawyers to end what I saw as legal torture.”