barcode1966

In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act

Why the threat of compulsory purchase orders has become one of the biggest fears for ex-local authority leaseholders in London.

418865_406280396101674_377969546_nCompulsory Purchases Orders (CPOs) are already a big issue in London, with many estates having already been forcibly bought. I am currently aware of 37 different estates in London that are currently fighting CPOs and it is just about to get much worse.

The current political thinking about CPOs in London

That’s because the political thinking around CPOs has shifted dramatically and swiftly during 2016. In this year’s London electoral race both Zac Goldsmith and the winning Sadiq Khan agreed that CPO’d council estates should be the land used to facilitate the building of the 50,000 new homes that were promised to be built per year in the capital.

In early 2016, the Prime Minister announced that he was about to blitz poverty by demolishing at least 100 large, run-down and difficult to manage council estates. He described these as ‘sink estates’ and to show how serious he was he pledged 149 million to it. Obviously 1.49m per estate is a paltry figure and so the government will need to rely heavily on developers’ money to pull it off.

Cameron then commissioned the silver-spooned Michael Heseltine (who ironically was a key figure in Thatcher’s original sale of council houses under the right to buy legislation) to examine how to demolish and redevelop the country’s 100 worst “sink estates” with the help of the private sector.

Heseltine says it is his dream to get rid of the ‘slums’, which is about to become a real nightmare for the legitimate tenants and owners of these properties. One thing Heseltine’s 17-person regeneration panel aims to do is speed up the process by fast-tracking developers’ applications.

Last March a body called the London Land Commission, headed by Boris Johnson, was formed to compile and publish a register of all publically owned land and property in London in preparation for this great compulsory plan.

Bizarrely a left wing think tank, the IPPR, have been embraced into this ‘social cleansing club’ and now seem to be at the forefront of current political thinking, having produced their own damaging report entitled City Villages: More homes, better communities.’ Here they assert that ‘by far the largest source of publicly owned land suitable for new housing is already owned by local authorities in their existing council housing estates.’

Following this all council estates have now been classified as ‘Brownfield estates’ and are now viable targets for CPOs, social regeneration and fat profits to be made.

This job of carving London up seems to have fallen to the estate agent Savills. They also produced a 164 report with the snappy title Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents. In  their darkly disingenuous report, the estate agents spell out their vision of redeveloping existing council estates and the benefit it will bring to London (read: their friends, the developers); they also gleefully assert that they should be paid huge chunks of tax payers’ money to preside over it all, as the various councils don’t have the expertise.

I could go on and on but the upshot is that all council estates have now become valid and viable targets for CPOs and all politicians, potential mayors and the private sector are in agreement.

Why do councils want to issue CPOs?yuppie2

The official reason is to turn run-down estates into sparkling new homes for their social tenants and leaseholders.

The real reason though is mostly about money. Firstly, they get money from the eager developer who wants to mow down the flats and build nice shiny chrome and glass luxury flats to a mostly investor market.

They get out of having to pay for and provide thousands of homes for social tenants, who in CPOs get ‘decanted’ out of the area, sometimes being shipped as far away as up north.

In their eyes the area will become more desirable to live in once it’s been socially cleansed and they can then put your council tax up.

Finally, many councils signed up to LOBO loans and they need to pay them off.

A sad pattern that is emerging from all these regeneration schemes is that they are sold initially on the amount of social housing that will be included in these developments. It soon transpires that there isn’t enough profit for developers to include the social housing element they promised after all and it’s reduced to a minuscule amount of housing.

What are the biggest dangers to you if your flat is CPOed?

The number one danger is the amount of money they will offer you for your flat compared to what it is actually worth on the open market.

The councils have a legal obligation to ensure that a flat owner is in ‘a no better or worse financial situation’ after a CPO. The reality though is different and very grim.

Councils tend to make their first offer of compensation a derisibly low offer to start with to shock flat owners and set their expectations and then over a period of many months they incrementally increase the offer whilst doing a good job of managing everyone’s expectations.

Below are some very rough figures I have been given (I have not been able to check the validity of all of them all. I have heard the same figures time and time again however so they will be pretty accurate)

  • Hendon (worth £347,000), opening offer £130,000, final offer £214,000
  • Heygate (worth £355,000), opening offer £114,000,  final offer £164,000
  • Colville (worth £270,000), opening offer £120,000, final offer £150,000
  • Woodberry (worth £330,000), opening offer £130,000, final offer £158,000

Data obtained by campaigners at the Aylesbury estate under the Freedom of Information Act found Southwark council paid £147,500 for a four-bedroom, 97 sq m maisonette. The average house price in London at the time had just had hit £400,000.

At the West Hendon estate in Barnet, some leaseholders were offered just £90,000 for a one-bed flat and £130,000 for a two-bed maisonette when the council applied for the first in a series of compulsory purchase orders.

This is hugely unfair to flat owners who are not being given a fair market price for their flats and they cannot buy a like to like flat on the new development.

There is then a real human cost to receiving unfair compensation. Many leaseholders will be too old to get a mortgage and will not be given enough compensation to buy another flat in the area they have grown up in. They will be faced with either using their capital for rent until it is used up or moving hundreds of miles away to be able to buy cheaper properties.

Those young enough to get a mortgage will be in a similar positon of not being able to afford to live in the area they currently do – with their friends and extended families – and will instead be forced to move to cheaper areas. This causes real issues for families forced to break up, and it is widely documented that people in these situations are suffering from depression or mental health issues due to losing the support of their friends and families.

Of course if leaseholders are unhappy with the valuation offered they can take their case to the Upper Tribunal but the cost of valuers, solicitors and barristers is very daunting to leaseholders. Also the councils, who get all their fees paid for by the tax payer, are almost certain to appeal if they don’t get the desired decision, thus wiping out a huge portion of the compensation received by a leaseholder, win or lose.

Will buying your freehold prevent a CPO from happening?

34836_chopsticksbeforePossibly. A council can make a CPO on any property as long as it is can be proved to be in ‘the public’s interest’. In reality though, it is generally much easier for a council to make a CPO on property they broadly own than to do it on property that is completely privately owned.

The more buildings that have the freehold purchased the harder it will become to make these sweeping CPOs.

There is also the scope for a much higher valuation for flats with a share of freehold of between 1-3% which on some high value flats will start to make a big impact on compensation.

There is a further argument that was successful and became case law in CPOs.

Transport for London v Spirerose Limited.

Spirerose successfully argued a form of “hope value” on the future development value on the freehold of the building that they owned. This adds a further layer to possible compensation if a building has been bought from the council.

Councils will not like the fact that bulk lease extensions and freehold purchases are being done on these estates as it will be driving up the compensation they will have to pay out if they try to serve a CPO.

What can you do to stop a CPO?

Anyone can submit a freedom of information request to a council to see if your block is being considered as a possible CPO target. There can be lots of rumours around the fact but it is simple to find out the truth.1441360468

If you are targeted for a CPO don’t despair! The council have to jump through a lot of hoops to get the permission required to take possession of your homes.

Organise yourself into a group with your neighbours who will be affected. The best possible chance you have is to act as a group to fight the proposal. Connect your group with those social tenants at your block who will also be looking to object; although you will both have different issues you have the same goal and it is a mistake to act separately.

Look at what other estates have done to fight CPOs, as there is a lot of information out there.

Write to MPs to let them know the human cost of CPOs.

Just recently the Aylesbury estate has won a famous victory to prevent a CPO taking place but we need to watch closely what happens next.

Some useful links

The official stance on CPOs

Some key case law

Another tower of shame (35 percent)

Heygate sell off (35 percent)

Heygate Estate Southwark Notes

©Barcode1966 – 2016

 

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Proposed increases to First-tier Tribunal fees: Making the flawed leasehold system even unfairer for flat owners.

Introduction Artists-impressions-of-Lady-Justice_statue_on_the_Old_Bailey_LondonThe Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has just released a consultation paper, which proposes to increase the cost of various court fees applicable.

Slipped into the middle of this paper are some very significant proposed increases to the fees payable for enfranchisement and lease extension cases heard at the First-tier Tribunal (FtT) Click here for the document (go to page 27).

These changes will have catastrophic consequences for the vast majority of ordinary flat owners in this country and will further damage their chances of being dealt with fairly by their rapacious freeholders. This blog will explain some of these consequences in more detail.

What are the proposed changes to the FtT fees?

The Government’s consultation paper says the following about its proposed FtT fees:

  1. We are proposing to introduce a simple fee structure with a £100 fee to issue proceedings and a £200 for a matter to be listed for a hearing, which will be applicable across the majority of case types in the Chamber.

Our modeling indicates, however, that these proposals, applied to all proceedings, would not meet the objective of 25% cost recovery.  We believe that in order to reach the target recovery rate for the Chamber there is a strong policy justification for charging higher fees in leasehold enfranchisement and leasehold valuation cases.

  1. Data obtained from the Leasehold Advisory Service suggests that for a sample of around 840 leasehold enfranchisement and leasehold valuation cases lodged between 1994 and 2006, the average value determined by the tribunal was around £142,000.

On this basis we believe that given the large amounts in dispute it is reasonable to expect those bringing these proceedings to pay a higher fee and have therefore modelled a proposal based on an issue fee of £400 and a hearing fee of £2,000.

This would have the effect of charging those cases at close to full cost and, based on current volumes, would bring the cost recovery percentage across the Chamber to around 25% after remissions.

However, an alternative to flat fees in these cases would be to consider a model where fees are charged as a percentage of the value at stake.

The figures used

Before I discuss how this affects flat owners I would make two points about the figures used in this document.

Firstly the data which was supplied by LEASE (What were you thinking LEASE?) is impossible to analyse or question. There are a few ‘pick and mix’ statistics used as supporting evidence but no real substance.

I have requested a copy of the full data supplied to the MOJ by LEASE by way of a freedom of information request, which you can see here.

Secondly I find it hard to believe that a mean average of the values disputed in the 840 FtT ‘sample’ cases quoted could be anywhere near as high as £142,000 per case! Unless it includes the £30 million arbitrary amounts for ‘development value’ the freeholders throw onto every enfranchisement case.

Leasehold Solutions is currently dealing with thousands of live lease extensions on behalf of ordinary flat owners and the vast majority of these cases have a value under £10,000.

At best these figures are Prime Central London centric and will completely price out a flat owner from Walthamstow who is trying to get justice against his gluttonous freeholder.

At worse, they are heavily skewered or just plain misrepresented.

Why does this proposed change prejudice flat owners even more? homepage-head

Many predatory freeholders already successfully use the current flawed leasehold system against flat owners.

Although flat owners do have defined legal rights, which make us feel all warm and fuzzy, in reality these rights do little to help flat owners against a cognizant freeholder.

This is because the onus to take legal action against an unreasonable or just plain bloody-minded freeholder is nearly always on the flat owner. They also have to pay for this legal action, by way of current FtT costs, which are dwarfed further by the cost of their own legal and valuation representation.

For example, many freeholders refuse to engage with the flat owner’s professionals during the statutory six-month negotiation period and they are very smug in the knowledge that the flat owner will have to pay to protect their legal position and there will be no fiscal penalties imposed against the freeholder for their unreasonable behaviour.

Imagine the increased power this strategy will be given if the flat owner has to now pay an additional £2,400 of FtT fees to force the bloody-minded freeholder to act!

What lets freeholders get away with acting so badly is the fact that the FtT feels it has little or limited power with cost jurisdiction and so rarely awards costs against a party who has acted unreasonably or vexatiously (even though on paper, it is allowed).

This gives freeholders the scope to act in an unscrupulous manner in the hope of gaining a further fiscal advantage or just to ‘punish’ a flat owner for daring to want a statutory lease extension.

This proposed additional £2,400 price tag for FtT fees just plays into the hands of freeholders at the expense of the flat owner.

The MOJ’s consultation paper ignorers that their proposed increase comes with the additional cost to the flat owner of their own legal representation, a valuer and possibly a barrister too!

The cost of an average flat owner in the suburbs, trying to get justice against an unscrupulous freeholder, has just become prohibitively high!

This flawed proposal will also add a fourth dimension to the existing three valuation principles of ground rent, reversion and marriage value which determine how a freeholder is compensated for a lease extension or enfranchisement.

This fourth element would be the ‘FtT cost’.

The freeholder could easily add an additional four or five thousand pounds to the fair cost of each lease extension based on the fact it would cost a flat owner much more than that to challenge them in the FtT!

This is a real gift to the many predatory billionaire freeholders we have in the UK but really bad news to the four million flat owners who will have to pay for it.

They will be the ones who will always pay for these increases either by way of paying the new fees to the FtT or by paying more than they should to their freeholder who has used this system against them.

Another gift for the freeholder could be the terms of the new lease.

During a statutory lease extension basically both sides have the legal right only to alter defective clauses and not include new clauses or licences in the lease.

Not so with the proposed changes to the FtT fees. Now a freeholder could insist on inserting a new license which states if you rent out your flat to a third party you must pay the freeholder £1,000 a year for ‘permission’ to do so.

The freeholder can’t legally do this but now the onus is on the flat owner to challenge this in the FtT to get this licence removed. Now the flat owner will have to pay £2,400 for FtT fees plus more than this for their solicitor to prepare the case case and represent them.

This after the fact that the flat owner has just paid over the odds for his lease extension, plus his own legal and valuation fees and the legal and valuation fees for his billionaire freeholder, chances are he will just accept it!

The list of how these proposed changes will prejudice flat owners all over the country goes on and on but it is plain to see that this proposed change designed to plug a gap in the MOJ’s books will also give more power and money to freeholders.

This is the death knell for the average person owning a flat in the suburbs who is trying to force his freeholder to act reasonably. Justice has just become too expensive.

If these proposed increases to the FtT fees are implemented then this img_0779will be a huge backwards step for leasehold reform.

The consultation paper closes on 15 September 2015, so please let your voice be heard, the more of us who make our voice know the better chance we have of stopping these ludicrous proposals.

Click on this link to see the paper and it asks three questions.

Please answer those questions and send them to the MOJ.

Also send a copy of your answers and thoughts to your local MP and:

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP Secretary of State for Justice

102 Petty France

LONDON

SW1H 9AJ

©Barcode1966 – 2015

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