Leasehold – to have and to hold?

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing
Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing

When a constituent around retirement age approached me about unfair payments being demanded by the freeholder of his block of leasehold flats, I did not expect to be drawn into a lasting national campaign for fairness and freedom for residential leaseholders.

The local case was quickly resolved with the expertise and a day freely given by a barrister through the Pro Bono Unit.

This time, the cause of the dispute was neither malice nor greed; it was the result of innocents taking sharp advice from a commercial lawyer about how the simple system of resolution intended by parliament could be circumvented.

Also in the news, news this week, a Littlehampton priest has retired after 28 years of service, a visitor was told she had ‘wrong kind of wheelchair’ for Worthing taxis and it was the end of an era as Highdown Tea Rooms closed its doors for the last time.

Elderly frail poor leaseholders accepted the sensible compromise offer, sharing £70,000 as part repayment of the historic overcharging.

My case workers and I were aided by the campaigning charity Leasehold Knowledge Partnership (see the LKP website) and its active trustees.

Martin Boyd had come into the field because of direct adverse experience near London; Sebastian O’Kelly had been property editor of the Daily Mail: with the assistance of Katherine O’Riordan, they are the secretariat of the All Party Leasehold and Commonhold Reform Group.

In recent years, we have awakened government.

After a succession of housing ministers who were not advised about the horrendous problems, Gavin Barwell, then an MP and responsible for housing, made the keynote speech at the annual leasehold conference.

He declared that abuses would be tackled and that the publicly funded LEASE advisory service would in future be plainly on the side of the oppressed, not evenly aiding the oppressors too.

Many of the new homes along the coast from Rustington to Worthing and most newly built homes in our towns and cities are leasehold.

They should not be.

Fifteen years ago, parliament legislated for the commonhold system that eliminated the opportunities for abuse by freeholders and managing agents who too often colluded to the disadvantage of leaseholders who by law have no status higher than a tenant.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we now know that leaseholders in private blocks are being asked by developers and freeholders to pay the costs of cladding replacement.

LEASE gave useless advice; LKP and the concerned MPs have been calling loudly and persistently for those responsible to accept their responsibilities.

It is wrong that the victims are asked to put things right and to pay too.

One success has been the prospective ban on new houses being sold unnecessarily as leasehold rather than freehold.

The scandal of ground rents that rose at the equivalent of seven per cent a year had the effect of making the homes of first time buyers, often using the Help-To-Buy scheme just about unsaleable, making the occupiers unable to move and stuck with a worthless asset.

If members of parliament have a role, it is to identify problems, to ally when possible across party lines and to persist until justice becomes possible.

I pay public tribute to Jim Fitzpatrick, the key London Labour MP with whom I work on these issues.

When people ask why I am so dedicated to being an MP, my response is that we can do good, we can have some fun though often we weep with the victims, and when we fail, the cause was worthwhile – and in most cases it remains worthwhile.

---

Benefit from an ongoing discount on your Herald or Littlehampton Gazette by joining our voucher membership scheme. Once you’ve subscribed we’ll send you dated vouchers which can be exchanged for your paper at any news outlet. To save money on your Herald or Littlehampton Gazette simply click here.