Norwich City Council: Under pressure from the Norwich Leaseholders Association to abide by the terms of the resident’s Leases

Norwich City Council’s relationship with its Leaseholders goes from worse to worse. Following on from their defeat in the case of Suzanna Redford v Norwich City Council in 2014 at the First Tier Tribunal, they are in trouble again in the recent Upper Tribunal case of Norwich City Council v Redford [2015] UKUT 0030 (LC).

Both cases follow the same pattern: Norwich City Council failed to abide by the terms of the resident’s Lease and got punished for it by the Tribunal.

The persistent Mr & Mrs Redford, supported by Norwich Leaseholder’s Association and their able Chair Kevin Hayes, took the Council to the First Tier Tribunal in the first of the two cases referred to above in respect of costs for cleaning which were included in their Service Charges. Remarkably, the Reford’s Lease (and we understand another 130 similarly worded leases granted by Norwich City Council) does not include a provision allowing it recharge its Leaseholders the cost of cleaning the common parts of its buildings or its estates. For this reason the First Tier Tribunal decided to disallow almost all the costs included in the Redford’s Service Charges for the cleaning of the building and the estate where their flat is located.

Even more remarkable than the wording of some of its Leases in respect cleaning costs is the Council’s response to the decision in this case, which was published in August 2014. At the time of writing this article (March 2015) the Council has done nothing to address the wider implications of this Tribunal decision. No appeal has been lodged or other legal action entered into, and no refunds have been made to the other 130 or so Leaseholders claiming a refund on similar grounds. The Council needs to ‘pull its finger out’ and address this situation by making the appropriate refunds and arranging to vary the terms of the leases to allow them to charge for necessary services, either by agreement with the Leaseholders directly or by making a Section 35 application to the First Tier Tribunal. The Council is at clearly fault for misdrafting the Leases in the first place and needs to ‘man up’ and bear the financial and administrative burden of correcting the situation.

Having had these problems with the cleaning, you might have guessed that the Council would have checked its leases more carefully when it was preparing its Service Charge bills in future. However, if you did guess this you would have been wrong. Roll on the second instalment of Reford versus Norwich City City Council, this time over the charges the Council made for its City Wide communal lighting maintenance contract. Both the First Tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal were in agreement that the Redford’s lease only allowed the Council to charge for costs which were directly related to their building and their estate. Nonetheless, the Council decided that their Service Charges should include costs based on a ‘City-Wide’ contract for the maintenance of communal lighting on all its estates. In essence there is nothing fundamentally wrong in providing services through City-Wide contracts. However, what is wrong, as both Tribunals pointed out, is not charging for these services on the basis of the actual costs incurred on each individual estate. What the the Council decided to do is to pool all the charges from its contractors and then spread the costs across the whole of it housing stock on the basis of the long defunct local authority rating system. What this meant is that residents were in effect being charged for the cost of repairing of lighting systems on other estates. Both Tribunals decided the Redford’s lease doesn’t allow the Council to do this and the charge for communal lighting maintenance in the Reford’s Service Charge has been disallowed in its entirety.

We wonder, given the inaction of the Norwich City Council on the cleaning issue, how long it will take the Council to address the issues around the charges it has made to its other residents for communal lighting maintenance. We presume that the wording of the Redford’s leases is not that different to that of other Norwich City Council Leaseholders and there must be lots of other residents due the same refund. Follow this blog and we will keep you posted!

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