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

The forgotten casualties of the doubling ground rent scandal

fullsizeoutput_730It has been immensely gratifying over the last few months to see the focus firmly remain on the leasehold house scandal where many of the largest developers needlessly sold houses as leasehold.

To make matters worse they embedded excessively high ground rents with accelerating clauses which see them double every 10 years or are linked to RPI. They also inexplicably buried clauses in the leases which allowed the new freeholders to demand huge sums of money for licences and permissions to be paid to them by the unsuspecting leaseholders.

This has left tens of thousands of people in seriously financially disadvantaged positions which has caused them severe stress and upset all caused by major developers who they trusted, a real scandal.

Through the indefatigable efforts of The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and the National Leasehold Campaign Facebook page, the continued focus on this needless scandal has started to bring real change.

There have already been statements from the Housing Minister, the Prime Minister and even in this years’ Queen’s speech all promising to end the leasehold abuses.

It has also seen Taylor Wimpey offer 130 million pounds to try to ‘rectify’ the doubling ground rent scandal. On top of that Nationwide Building Society have now altered their lending criteria on leasehold properties with many other lenders confirming that they are reviewing their current criteria too.

Arguably though, the biggest benefit achieved so far has been to raise the issues of ground rents in the consciousness of the nation.

The biggest ground rent scandal

There is however a bigger scandal on a much greater scale that involves doubling ground rents which is waiting to be uncovered. This scandal has already affected hundreds of thousands of people. This scandal is receiving virtually no media nor political focus and many leaseholders are completely unaware of the trap they are blindly falling into.

I am referring to informal lease extensions undertaken for leasehold flats.

What are informal lease extensions and what are the real issues surrounding them?

If you need to extend your lease you have a legal right to extend your lease by an additional 90 years and importantly your ground rent is reduced to zero.

Once completed this strips out any future income from ground rents and lease extensions for the freeholder and they really don’t want this to happen.

Avaricious freeholders and their oily legal advisors put in a huge amount of effort to prevent leaseholders using their legal rights to extend by constructing ‘Machiavellian’ informal offers which are quick, easy and seem to save you money but the very opposite is true.

How do freeholders push their informal lease extensions onto you?

fullsizeoutput_72d.jpegIf a leaseholder decides that they need a lease extension they will generally contact a solicitor or valuer to ask their advice. The majority of these professionals will recommend contacting the freeholder directly in the first instance to ask them how much they want for the extension. They will claim to be ‘experts’ in negotiating directly with freeholders and point out it could save you time and money.

Even if you don’t contact your freeholder directly, you will often find you receive an informal deal from your freeholder once you have Served the legal Notice to extend. Many freeholders have a process of refusing to negotiate on a legal lease extension and promise to be difficult throughout whilst presenting their informal offer which they will complete on cheaply and easily.

Once the ‘deal’ arrives from the freeholder these professionals acting for you will often intimate, with heavy caveats of course, that it is a good deal for you. If it’s a bad deal but you’re extending because you wish to sell the flat, they will often advise you to let the person who buys from you ‘deal with the consequences, why should you worry?’

These deals will usually offer to extend your lease back up to only 99 or 125 years. For example if the lease on your flat had fallen to 80 years it would only be topped up by 19 years to 99 years as opposed to having a lease length of 170 years through the statutory route)

Instead of reducing your ground rent to zero they will include new onerous ground rents which can be between £250 – £500 per year. Their coup de grâce will be to link this onerous ground rent to an aggressive accelerator, like ground rent doubling every 5 or 10 years.

This is evil genius by freeholders because not only will they make a fortune from the actual ground rent they will now collect, they know that in another 15 years or so someone will have to extend the lease again and with ground rent that high they will have to pay many tens of thousands of pounds for the extension.

They have turned a one off lease extension which may have earned them a few thousand pounds into a valuable asset which could easily earn them at least £60,000 to £70,000 over 15 years.

If you would like a full explanation of why informal lease extensions are so damaging, please click here.

What does this mean for the flat owner?

fullsizeoutput_734A leaseholder who tried to rectify their lease length and accepted one of these informal lease extensions has sold themselves into huge debt to save just a few hundred pounds on the cost of a statutory lease extension.

At best it will strip any equity that they may have built up over the years in their flat and at worse it will leave them with an unsellable flat.

If you have accepted a ‘quick and cheap’ informal deal to enable you to sell your flat, you may now find a much more cogent buyer refuses to buy your flat or they may offer a much lower price for it to take into account the dreadful deal you have signed your flat up to.

Potentially buyers will now also find it much more difficult to secure a mortgage on a flat with onerous ground rent terms as lenders tighten up their lending criteria. This could leave you with a flat that is unsellable.

There is no doubt that due to this increased focus on ground rents from buyers and lenders real care should be taken before you decide to agree to accept an informal offer.

How can informal lease extensions still be legal?

What is so astounding is the fact that these informal lease extensions are allowed to happen in their thousands every year to unsuspecting flat owners.

In a world that offers so much consumer protection, how can greedy freeholders be allowed to trick people with complex compounding financial deals that ruin lives?

How can it be illegal to sign someone up to a £10 a month mobile phone contact without spelling out every single aspect of the deal first but it is legal to trick someone into a complex deal which could cost them £50,000 with no legal recourse?

How can informal lease extensions be unregulated still?

What is the best way to keep free from the effects of these informal deals?

  • Don’t ever consider accepting an informal lease extension offer.
  • Insist that the ground rent is reduced to zero (thus stripping out any future value)
  • If you are buying a flat, ask if the lease has ever been extended.
  • If the lease has not had 90 years added or if there is still ground rent, it’s an informal.
  • If it has demand to see the ground rent and when it increases.
  • Consider carefully the real implications of the deal before buying.

This can only be answered by Government, the DCLG and LEASE who are all totally silent on this scandal.

The next leasehold ground rent scandal

fullsizeoutput_732There is no doubt that this informal lease extension scandal will soon be uncovered and written about and the scale of this scandal will be staggering. I estimate that between 40-50% of all lease extensions carried out each year are informal and this has been going on for 25 years!

When flat owners come together and realise what they have been tricked into signing by amoral freeholders and their solicitors a scandal of breathtaking proportions will be revealed and it will dwarf the current leasehold houses scandal.

There will be tens of thousands of flats that will be unsellable and thousands of normal hard working people will see that they have been tricked into giving the financial provisions they have made for their future over to greedy millionaire freeholders.

It is time for the government, trade bodies and the media to step in and rescue the forgotten casualties of the doubling ground rent scandal.

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The dangers of buying the freehold of your house directly from your freeholder

Introduction

fullsizeoutput_664Thousands of people who bought new build houses have now realised that, through no fault of their own, they have bought a leasehold house with bad ground rent terms. In addition there are costly lease terms that mean they have to pay the freeholders fees for permission to alter their homes, change carpets, carry out DIY and even to sell their own properties.

This has lead many to the conclusion that the only option is to buy the freehold of their own home but are confused about how to go about it and what is involved. This confusion adds considerably to an already stressful situation, so I would like to offer some clear advice on the best option you have to get out of this unjust situation.

There are two different ways to buy the freehold of your home

You have a legal right to buy your freehold under the 1967 Leasehold Reform Act. Here there is a legal process to follow with a statutory valuation method set down by law. If the freeholder will not agree to negotiate fairly you have a legal right to force them to and you are offered legal protection on the terms of the freehold purchase.

To many people this process may seem daunting and uncertain and understandably people shy away from it.

The other option is to contact your freeholder directly and ask them how much they want from you to buy the freehold and see what figure they come back with, this is called an ‘informal’ deal.

The purpose of this article

I have now been contacted by hundreds of people who are asking my advice on whether the best option they can take to buy the freehold of their house is to negotiate the cost of doing so directly with their freeholder.

I have already written a very comprehensive article entitled ‘The leasehold houses scandal and what you can do about it’, but because of the number of calls I have had, I’ve decided to produce this document to help you make the best and most informed decision.

This article will set out why the informal deal with your freeholder is often the worse deal you could possibly make.

You have no legal protection

First and foremost I would like to state it is very important to know that, if you negotiate directly with your freeholder, you are actually stepping outside of any legal protection you have under the Act of parliament that was brought in for you to buy the freehold, the Leasehold Reform Act 1967.fullsizeoutput_47b

The Act was designed to offer leaseholders legal protection when you go through this process and legal ways you can force your freeholder to negotiate fairly with you during the purchase of your freehold.

An ‘informal’ freehold purchase, however, means you step outside of this protection and will be dealing with your multi-millionaire professional freeholder directly. They bought your freehold to make as much profit from you as they can, and you can only hope that they will act fairly with you.

Therefore the details of the offer you will receive from your freeholder will be a ‘take it or leave it’ deal and if you are unhappy with the price quoted or the terms of the acquisition they are proposing you have no way of forcing them to change the terms offered. Your only option will be to walk away from the deal.

Your freeholder will not want to sell you the freehold of your home at all, they bought it as a long-term investment in the hope they would be raking in profit from you for many years to come. This means they will be asking for a huge amount of money and will also look to retain terms in the purchase that they can still make money from in the future.

I cannot stress enough that you should be highly suspicious of these offers and act with  extreme caution.

How do they work out how much you should pay?

When your freeholder quotes you a figure to buy your freehold informally they are literally stating the largest amount they can extract from you.

The figure quoted is not based on the statutory valuation method in any way ,shape or form it is just a huge figure plucked out of the air, a figure they will often charge you to produce.

I see freeholders regularly asking for 30, 40 or even 50 times your current ground rent as  the figure quoted and this is outrageous and can be double or sometimes triple what the statutory valuation method would be!

Your only option to try to reduce the bloated figure your freeholder has proposed is to write back to them and ask them nicely if they would lower it. They will sometimes knock another few grand off the price but as they don’t want to sell it and they don’t need the money why would they offer you a fair price?

I have now seen many people buy their freeholds informally and pay £25,000 more than they should have done just to avoid going down the statutory route!

Beware of some other tricks your freeholder could pull 

I have now seen many, many cases where people have bought the freehold of their homes, but the freeholder has managed to retain clauses where the fees for licences and permissions due to them are kept in the terms of the informal deal!

You have bought your freehold for an eye watering amount of money but you still may have to pay for permission to live in your own home.

Some of the clauses I have seen retained are leaseholders still having to pay £300 permission per room to change the carpet.

Several thousand pounds to pay for permission do any DIY on their own property, four and half thousand pounds for the permission to build a conservatory in their own back garden and £107 for permission to put up a blind above a kitchen window.

Many hundreds of pounds for permission to rent out your own property or the same amount when you want to sell your home.

It is this wildly unjust leasehold system that allows this travesty to be even possible but predatory freeholders will take full advantage of it.

The offer to turn a doubling ground rent to one linked to Retail Price Index (RPI)

The other thing I have seen freeholders offer is to change a ground rent that doubles every ten years to one that is linked instead to RPI.  This is done under the pretence of them deciding to act fairly and change your bad situation to one more favourable to you.

On the surface this offer may seem like a God-send but with all things leasehold, the devil is in the detail.

If you have a doubling ground rent you will be very keen to explore this with your freeholder but the deals I have seen offered of this type are not good at all and should be looked at with extreme suspicion.

One of the very concerning things is that the freeholder wants your ground rent to double first BEFORE it is linked to RPI, which means most ground rents would now be £590 per year linked to RPI for the remainder of the lease.

fullsizeoutput_4c7This in turn means that, if you accept this deal, your house now has an onerous ground rent that will stay linked to RPI and be an onerous one for evermore. The onerous ground rent might still give you problems when you try to sell your home.  Nationwide Building Society is the first mortgage provider to announce that it won’t lend on homes with onerous ground rents. Other major lenders are likely to follow.

On top of this freeholders are asking for between £12,000 – £15,000 for them to transmit doubling ground rents to one linked to RPI. This is outrageous!

Also in these deals the same terms of transferal will apply with the retention of licences and permissions which will be included in the terms of your new lease.

Additionally, if you wish to go on to buy the freehold of your house with a £590 a year ground rent linked to RPI then it will still cost you many thousands of pounds. You will either have to buy your freehold informally or via the statutory route.

You will find yourself  in exactly the same position you are currently in, except you will have paid your freeholder twice! Once to move from a doubling ground rent to one linked to RPI and again to buy the actual freehold of your home!

Freeholders are a pretty clever bunch aren’t they?

Conclusion

I agree that the legal process may be daunting and perhaps looks uncertain. This puts many people off going down this route. I fully understand why the informal option can appear to be easier and less fraught.

However, please be aware that if you go down this informal route you will pay much more than you should do for your freehold, perhaps £25,000 more! Your freeholder will retain clauses that continue to favour themselves and will keep generating money from you well into the future.

The very best option you have to get out of this leasehold scandal is to buy your freehold using the statutory legal process which is there to protect you. If you can do this at the same time as some of your neighbours you will have strength in numbers and it will cut down on the costs.

Good luck.

For more information click here

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Some questions raised by the Taylor Wimpey offer to spend £130m to rectify the leasehold house scandal

fullsizeoutput_653.jpegLast week Taylor Wimpey announced it has put £130m on one side to convert all the houses it sold with ground rents that doubled every ten years into ground rents that are linked instead to grow in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI).

Later that day Peter Redfern, the Chief Executive, took part in a ‘Q1 2017 Earnings Conference Call’ to explain Taylor Wimpey’s financial statement and its actions to rectify the leasehold houses scandal it created and answer any questions the participating financial analysts had.

On examination of these statements I have some serious questions that need to be addressed by Taylor Wimpey. On the one hand it could be said that Taylor Wimpey did not need to offer this and it is being decent because it ‘feels it’s the fair thing to do’ and I sincerely hope that is true.

However, having worked in the leasehold sector for the last 10 years, I have become very wary about deals that look ‘too good to be true’ and I am suspicious of this offer as I find many of the comments made by Taylor Wimpey ring serious alarm bells in my head.

Mr Redfern made this statement:

“What we’ve announced today is that we will do a Deed of Variation for those customers which requires a negotiation between us and the freeholder which we’re undertaking on the customers’ behalf.”

We must wonder why Taylor Wimpey took this action, although it is clearly the first step in the right direction, it is not what its clients asked it to do nor do they want it.

Not a single person I have spoken to wants to move from a doubling ground rent to a slightly less onerous ground rent linked to RPI with all the same leasehold clauses and unfair payments to the freeholder for pointless licences and permissions.

What the clients of Taylor Wimpey want is to be able to purchase the freehold of their homes and free themselves from the spider’s web of leasehold.fullsizeoutput_657.jpeg This is a legal right they have.

Mr Redfern went on to say:

“We’re not releasing a number and therefore, a cost for lease of the actual provision, it includes the costs of the process and we think it is calculated on a very prudent basis.”

So it refuses to release the number of leasehold houses affected in this, nor how much it will be paying the freeholders in compensation. This seems a very strange state of affairs and not one that will fill any leaseholders with confidence.

This is a secret deal being done between Taylor Wimpey and the freeholders, the details of which are hidden. Was it not this very same secret deal originally done between them both that meant the leaseholders found themselves trapped in this leasehold hell?

They say these terms were “calculated on a very prudent basis.” Prudent for whom? As we know, many freeholders were asking leaseholders for in excess of £40,000 to buy their freehold if the ground rent doubled every ten years. It seems Taylor Wimpey has found a way to force the freeholders to accept much more modest figures for this deed of variation, but it refuses to share this information. Why?

Without any doubt whatsoever, the freeholders would only readily agree to this unorthodox suggestion if there was something in it for them. What is that something? They don’t need the cash; they need the long-term investment that is your home.

Surely a better option was to use this ability to force the freeholders to accept a more reasonable figure and then facilitate the leaseholders affected to be able to buy their freeholds, as that is what they want?

So that raises the question who does this deal on the table really benefit, the freeholders or the leaseholders?

It would benefit freeholders is if the ground rent in these doubling terms were to double to the first increase as part of this deal. I have seen this on every deal of this type I have seen already, which means the ground rent would be £590 pa linked to RPI.

If this is part of the deal they are suggesting it means each and every house would now have an onerous ground rent on their property, forever! The freeholders will retain their profit as they collect this ground rent as well fees for licences and permissions.

Leaseholders who then plan to move straight on to buy their freeholds from the freeholder once this deed of variation had been carried out would find themselves back in the position they are now in that of trying to negotiate to buy it with an onerous ground rent clause and it will cost them many thousands of pounds to do it. They will have to pay the same two sets of legal fees and may have to go to the Tribunal to force the freeholders to negotiate fairly on the cost of doing all this.

The leaseholders may find themselves in only a slightly better position than they are in now whilst the freeholders would be very happy having been paid twice for their freehold and Taylor Wimpey would be blameless from a PR standpoint.

This raises another serious question, Mr Redfern continued:

“The customers themselves have legal rights and so there are other ways at arriving at a valuation. So we’re not sort of — just got 1 lever to pull with those freeholder conversations”.

fullsizeoutput_65d.jpegThe customers have all THE legal rights, whereas Taylor Wimpey have no legal rights whatsoever to negotiate this on behalf of the leaseholders. Therefore, these negotiations will be informal negotiations, which means all leaseholders will have to step outside the legal protection they have buying their freeholds under the statutory route.

An informal deal is a ‘take it or leave it’ deal as there is no legal mechanism to remove any clauses that seem onerous. For example, we have seen deals of this nature before where there is a clause inserted that states that the person signing this deal cannot proceed to buy their freehold for a certain period of time. If that were the case here, you have no legal mechanism to remove it.

The same would be true if the terms of the deed of variation states your ground rent will double firstly, you have no legal mechanism to remove it before you sign.

There could be other clauses included in this deal like a time restriction on when you can then proceed to buy your freehold, a clause that could indemnify the developer against any future litigation or even non-disclosure agreements.

I have no idea if these types of terms will be included in the deed of variation at all, I include the various scenarios I regularly see in these deals simply to illustrate just how vulnerable leaseholders are entering into this kind of informal deal outside of the legal protections of offered by statutory freehold purchases.

One thing is certain though. Part of the deal will not include the removal of the huge fees leaseholders will have to pay for the permissions and licences that are included in their current leases.

Another worrying thing here is that Taylor Wimpey is only offering this deed of variation to customers who bought their leasehold houses from them directly, whereas the people who bought these houses from the original purchaser are excluded from this deal.

That does not seem fair at all. These houses still have the same unfair ground rents and terms as those who bought directly from Taylor Wimpey. If a car make was recalled because it had a certain fault, the car manufacturer would recall all the cars not just those bought directly from the manufacturer.

Even more worrying about this unsolicited deal being offered is that it infers a tacit agreement by all those who take up this offer, that leasehold houses with ground rents linked to RPI as somewhat acceptable and would possibly mean any future litigation against them would not be possible.

It also means that when those who accept this deed of variation will have nothing to complain about nor any recourse against Taylor Wimpey when they try to but their freeholds at a later date.

If this deal is accepted, the freeholder could be left sitting pretty with their long term investments and a nice compensation pay off from Taylor Wimpey. Taylor Wimpey get to walk away from the whole thing with its head held high and any chances of future litigation receding.

As ever, it’s the leaseholders left in a position that is little better than the original position they were placed in by these onerous lease clauses which we written and put in place by the developer to earn extra profit.

Everyone wins except the leaseholders and this is the very story told over the last few hundred years in the history of the leasehold system in this country.

It would be tedious for me to pick through every single point in Taylor Wimpey’s statement. You all now know how this works and what you all went through. That said there are some other worrying noises that could indicate intent and what the developer is focusing on.

Mr Redfern said:

“We haven’t had a single legal claim, including on these doubling ground rent provisions. Because people did have independent legal advice.”

This ignores the fact that the ‘independent’ legal advice was obtained from named solicitors recommended by the developers themselves for reduced fees and a speeded up service. It also ignores that hefty discounts were offered for ‘quick sales’ by the developers.

It also ignores the fact that since this leasehold house scandal erupted, Taylor Wimpey has simply told everyone to sue their conveyancing solicitor, thus neatly deflecting their blame in all this.

Mr Redfern then said:

“The contract (the lease) is very clear….. this isn’t a case and we might feel differently about it if the lease terms were hidden, sort of split between 3 clauses and really difficult to understand. They’re not, they’re very straightforward.”

fullsizeoutput_658.jpegThese leases are as complex as we have ever seen and the vast majority of ground rent clauses are exactly split into three sections meaning for most people it is impossible to glance at what their ground rent is and when it increases. I have been sent hundreds of pleas from people asking me to try and identify just what their ground rent is and how much it increases.

He then says:

When we look at RPI leases and the sale of leases on houses historically, people knew they were buying a leasehold house.

Most did, but at point of sale they were told by Taylor Wimpey salespeople that they could buy the freehold of their homes for a few thousand after two years. This disarmed many of the purchasers who would otherwise been on full alert regarding the detail of the leasehold houses who mistakenly believed that the freehold would be theirs for a modest fee so why worry?

The freeholds were then sold to professional ground rent investors without Taylor Wimpey’s leaseholders being informed or consulted about it, nor offered a chance to purchase first. At that point the terms of the leasehold houses became important to everyone, but by then it was too late.

Does this professional spin put on the current leasehold house scandal and Taylor Wimpey’s role in it make us feel more confident or less confident in their role in this cloudy informal deed of variation being offered?

As I mentioned at the start of this examination we hope with every fibre of our being that this offer is genuine and will help those most affected by this scandal but would urge extreme caution before rushing into any informal deal made between Taylor Wimpey, the creators of your current situation and the professional freeholders who are currently benefitting from the deal done with your house builder.

Until I have the details of the deal being offered I cannot possibly advise fully on but experience has taught me to hope for the best and plan for the worst in all leasehold matters.

A much better deal would be for Taylor Wimpey to help you all to buy your freehold under the statutory process created to offer leaseholders protection under law. This for me is the only acceptable option and Taylor Wimpey should be asked why this is not an option on the table.

To join the National leasehold Campaign page click here and to check the latest news please follow the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and support their tireless work.

The quotations were supplied by:

https://seekingalpha.com/article/4066408-taylor-wimpeys-twodf-ceo-peter-redfern-q1-2017-results-earnings-call-transcript

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The leasehold houses scandal and what you can do about it

Why are leasehold houses called a ‘scandal’?

imagesThere is no reason whatsoever why houses should be sold as leasehold, they should have been sold as freehold properties. Worse still is the fact that they have been sold with high ground rents that double every 10 years, 25 years or are linked to RPI (the retail Price Index)

The majority of leases pertaining to leasehold houses we have seen have also onerous fees that must be paid to the freeholder for licences and permissions included in the clauses of the lease.

Many of the tens of thousands of people who have bought leasehold houses from developers also feel that they were not correctly advised at the point of sale. I have spoken to hundreds of purchasers who tell the same story that at point of sale the salespeople working for the developers told purchasers that they would be able to buy their freeholds for a few thousand pounds once they had owned the property for the required two years. The vast majority however have found that their freeholds have been sold to large institutional ground rent investors without ever being consulted and these investors are now asking for £40,000 to sell them the freehold of their homes.

There is also huge anger from the purchasers that the solicitors they paid to advise them on the purchase of their houses did not advise them correctly about the implications of the ground rents and terms of the lease. Many contracts I have seen from the developers have directions that the solicitors the purchasers must use for the conveyancing should be “Nom Sol Only” i.e the solicitors named by the developers.

It really doesn’t smell right does it?

Why were the houses sold as leasehold in the first place?

Developers are saying it was just the ‘custom’ imagesin that area to sell houses as leasehold but that is simply not the truth.

Except for a few very rare circumstances there is no reason at all that a house should be sold as leasehold except to make the developer more money. Even in those rare cases where houses must be sold as leasehold due to restrictive covenants on the land, there is no reason to make the ground rent anything but a peppercorn and less reason to include onerous clauses in the lease.

If you look at the additional revenue it brings you can easily see why the developer is tempted. We have seen many house sold to ground rent investors for between £7,000 £16,000 per home or more. This additional income brought in many tens of millions of extra ‘profit’ for the developers.

For many of the developers to get this lovely extra ‘profit’ they have willingly sold their clients, the purchasers of their houses, into huge future debts from the ground rent they have to pay, the monstrously disproportionate fees to purchase their freeholds, regular fees for licences and permissions they require from their new freeholder and service charges etc.

A cursory scratch below the surface shows many of the directors of the house developers were also directors of many of these professional ground rent investors, the smell just gets worse! A cynic might come to the reasonable conclusion that if the leases were intended to have been sold to the home owners all along, why would developers include high ground rents and onerous clauses in the lease at all. Unless of course that the intention was always to sell to ground rent investors all along?

Although the developers have done nothing illegal in selling your houses to a third party professional ground rent investor, was it a moral thing to do? Is it a good way to treat a client of yours? Was this a fair thing to do?

I say categorically not!

Why do ground rent investors buy the freeholds?

For money and a lot of it too!

They make money from:

  • The ground rent you pay every year which is pure profit.
  • Charging you an admin fee to chase late ground rate payments.
  • The money they get when people want to buy their freeholds.
  • Any applicable sub-letting fees.
  • For the various licences and permissions, they can charge you.
  • Sometimes on building insurance.
  • Sometimes on service charges.

So, what are your options?

OPTION 1 – You may be able to sue your conveyancing solicitor for professional negligence.

img_5880.jpgAs you already know, it is not easy to sue a solicitor, after all they do this for a living. It is not enough to believe or feel that you were inadequately advised, it is all about how much proof you have.

Your first job is to get a copy of your file from the solicitor who advised you when you bought your house. You can do this yourself by simply writing to your solicitor or you could instruct a solicitor to do this for you.

Your solicitor has to provide you with this report but there is no legal timeframe for them to do this by.

What are you looking for in this file?

The most important document is something called your “Report on title’. This is the report on the pros and cons of you buying this property. A report on title can be two pages to 15 pages long.

This is the document that could give you the proof you need to sue your conveyancing solicitor.

The most important bit of your file to look for is the part where it explains the ground rent ground in your lease and the implications it will have for you in the future.

You will also need to check all the documents in your file too to see if any other documents your solicitor provided you in your report included advice on the ground rent of the lease.

What are your chances of suing?

This is very subjective and not meant to be used as an absolute guide to you chances of success of suing but it’s a fair guide.

If your file does not even mention your ground rent or their implications you could have a very good chance of suing.

If your file shows the solicitor simply states your ground rent is “£250 per annum” with no other advice you may still have a good case to win.

If it says “Ground rent is £250 and doubles every 10 years” but does not other any other advice you may still win but a solicitor will try to assert they did advise you.

If your file says “Ground rent is £250 doubling every 10 years and this could be bad” then your chances of success are reduced even further as the solicitor will insist they had properly advised you.

If it says “Ground rent is doubling every 10 years and might be bad so advise you get valuation on advice and advise on implications” then the solicitor has advised you about the ground rent and if you did not take a valuer’s advice then I’m doubt you would have any kind of case against them.

It is also worth carrying out the same process on the valuer you used to establish the market price for your home. Did they advise you on the onerous ground rent clauses? What does their file say?

Once you have looked at the pack, if you feel you have a case you will need to instruct a solicitor to sue them for professional negligence. There are many solicitors who would do this for you on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. You need to ensure that the solicitor you choose should have a proven track record of successfully suing large solicitors for professional negligence and not just pick the cheapest or most eager to work for you.

Also keep in mind that the test for professional negligence is a two-part test.

  • The legal test – conveyancing solicitor had a duty of care which was breached causing loss.
  • Layman test – Had we been told we never would have bought the house (or would have negotiated better terms)

OPTION 2 – You can buy the freehold of your home

Broadly speaking there are three different ground rent schedules I have seen these leasehold houses.

  • Doubling ground rent every ten years. This is by far the worse one and is considered onerous.
  • Doubling every 25 years. This is not as bad and is not considered onerous.
  • Linked to RPI. This essentially means the ground rent you pay is linked to inflation and technically you pay the same amount each year forever more and this is also not onerous.

You need to keep in mind however that all these ground rent options are totally needless and exist for the sole purpose of creating an asset class for the ground rent investors.

Under the 1967 Leasehold Act you have a legal right to force your freeholder to sell you the freehold of your home if you have owned your home for more than two years.

Why should you bother?

The benefits are:

  • No more ground rent.
  • You now own your house and the ground it sits on.
  • No more sub-letting fees.
  • No more licences or permissions to pay.
  • No more dealings with your freeholder.

How much should it cost you to buy the freehold of my house?

How much it should cost is a three-part calculation2017-02-06-9-08-23-515-_93907167_katie-kendrick-1_5000x500 but only one of these calculations is applicable to most of you as you have long leases.

So, to work out how much it should cost we need to work out just one aspect of your lease. How much is the total ground rent you owe your freeholder for the remainder of your lease?

Many have ground rent doubling every 10 years for 5 multiples and remaining at that level for the remainder of your lease, these are by far the worse of the ground rent schedules.

If your ground rent is £295 on these terms the total ground rent you have been signed up for is 4.6m over 999 years. If it is a 250-year lease, then the total amount is ‘just’ a 1m!

Luckily for us, that is not the calculation because we are able to take into account the effect of inflation. As a pound today will be worth much less in 100 years from now.

The key point of this calculation is the percentage we use to do this calculation; it’s called the capitalisation rate. The higher the rate the better for the leaseholders, the lower the rate the better it is for your freeholder.

We have seen many valuations from people wishing to buy their freehold directly from their freeholder. In every one of these the freeholder is quoting a 5% capitalisation rate.

What does that mean in pounds and pence?

If your ground rent is £295 doubling every 10 years is around then the cost of buying your freehold is around £26,000 based on your freeholders 5% cap rate.

If you changed the capitalisation rate to 6% then the cost to purchase your freehold would be around £19,000. If it was 7% then you would be looking at around £11,000

For a house with a ground rent of £195 that doubles every 25 years or linked to RPI it would be £6,625 to buy your freehold based on a 5% cap rate. Around £4,500 for a 6% and £3,200 on a 7% cap rate.

So as you can see, the rate used makes a huge difference to you.

To put it in perspective the capitalisation rates we regularly agree in London are between 6-7% day in day out. Your freeholder is staking out an aggressive stance suggesting 5%. I passionately believe that if there were a group of you acting together you would win this battle.

So what is the process of buying your freehold?

  1. First you need to establish a fair price and work out if you can afford to do it.
  2. Instruct a solicitor to Serve a Section 9 Notice on your freeholder.
  3. You are not required to make an opening offer price.
  4. Freeholder can ask for a 3 x multiple of your current ground rent.
  5. You don’t need to put another offer price in the Notice.
  6. Freeholder has two months to respond but they don’t have to.
  7. Your valuer will start to negotiate with your freeholder on the cost.
  8. You can agree very quickly on the price if both agree.
  9. You have to make the final decision to accept the price on the table.

If your freeholder will not negotiate you will need to take them to the First tier Tribunal.

  1. It costs £100 to apply but can be done as a group.
  2. It costs £200 to attend but can also be split across a group.
  3. You will need a valuer and possibly a barrister to represent you.
  4. The court will decide on what is fair based on the evidence.
  5. The cap rate is the only point of contention.
  6. They may appeal.
  7. It is still worth it if you are a group.
  8. Your freeholder pays their own fees.

If possible you should do this at the same time with a group of your neighbours to make this battle affordable. Based on experience this Tribunal battle may cost you between 6-8k. An awful lot of money if you act alone. If you have a group however:

  • 10 people = £600-800 each
  • 20 people = £300-400 each
  • 30 people = £200-270 each
  • 40 people = £150 -200 each
  • 50 people = £120 -160 each

It sounds like a real pain and it is but it is better than handing £40,000 to your freeholder for your freehold as you could save many tens of thousands of pounds!

Surely, the best thing to do is to approach your freeholder directly and negotiate with them?

I see that a lot of people are doing this. It could be possibly the worse thing to do though, it would be like getting foxes to babysit your chickens and hoping the all play nicely.

Your freeholder has bought your freehold for one reason and one reason alone, to make as much money from you as they possibly can. Do you really think they are going to negotiate fairly with you and give you a good price?

Why would they?

It is also very very important to know that if you try to buy your freehold ‘informally’ for your freeholder you step outside any legal protection you would have if you acted inside the ’67 Act’. Your freeholder can negotiate the very best deal for themselves on the freehold transfer and there is nothing you can do to remove anything from the contract you don’t like, it’s a take it or leave it deal.

For example, we have seen many clauses in the lease where a leasehold house owner is required to pay £300 per room to their freeholder for ‘permission’ to fit a new carpet or bigger costs for permission to carry out alterations to your home. On many informal freehold purchases we have seen that are done directly with the freeholder we see them keeping these fees for the permissions in the transfer.

So you will over pay to the freeholder on their value and find that after you will still need to pay fees for permission to change a carpet etc! Don’t do it!

OPTION 3 – Buy your freehold as part of a group using your statutory legal right under the 1967 Act. 

The very best thing you can do is to buy your freehold as part of a group with your neighbours acting at the same time, the bigger the group the more money you will save. There is an economy of scale when you act as a group but it will also give you formidable  negotiating power against your freeholder when trying to agree a fair price.

How do you choose which Solicitor and valuer to use?

It is tempting to choose the cheapest ones based on quotes you get from the various professionals but with the leasehold world cheap is not always the best option for you, you will only have one chance to get this right and you don’t want to end up in an even worse situation after you complete on the purchase of your freehold because you chose the wrong valuer or solicitor.

I strongly suggest that you choose a solicitor or valuer who are members of ALEP as all of these have had to prove they have the expertise to work for you in freehold purchases and are generally the best in the industry at what they do.

How acting as part of a group is the best way through this.

It will save you money on:

  • The valuation fees involved.
  • The solicitor’s fees involved.
  • The actual price you pay for your freehold.
  • Sharing any Tribunal fees.

This is the only way you will end up paying a fair amount for your freehold.

fullsizeoutput_5d1Through no fault of your own you have found yourselves trapped in the spiders web of leasehold where very clever groups of people now have a financial interest in your homes and see you as a nothing more than a ‘revenue stream’ for them and their investors.

This is very clearly a very morally bankrupt situation and it has caused many thousands of people who bought these house untold stress and heart ache. However, your developers have done nothing illegal in selling your freeholds and the ground rent investors have done nothing illegal in buying them. This is the awful world of leasehold!

You will need to skilfully use the law to free yourselves from the grasp of these faceless investors and take control of the financial destiny for yourselves and your family.

It is therefore essential that you don’t rush into the wrong route to rectify this or choose the wrong professional to help you to do it. Do your research well, take your time, question everything, trust no-one and make sure you fully understand your options before you act.

I hope this article has helped you a little and I wish you all the very best of luck.

©Barcode1966 – 2017

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2016 a leasehold review – The worst year for leaseholders ever?

fullsizeoutput_4ccThis is a review of some of this year’s developments and how it effects leaseholders, unfortunately it’s not happy reading. It is no exaggeration to say that 2016 has been the worse year to be a leaseholder in recent memory, there is very little to be optimistic about.

Each development has made it more difficult to exert the legal rights given to leaseholders by legislation as well as making the costs of doing so rise significantly.

Court fees

This ridiculous idea was first mooted in 2015 to bring in application fees for the First tier Tribunal to be paid by the applicant and it eventually come into force in 2016.

Now, when you apply to the Tribunal, you must pay £100 and a further £200 to attend a hearing. As the vast majority of applications have to be made by leaseholders against unreasonable freeholders this extra financial burden will be borne mostly by leaseholders.

It could have been much worse though.fullsizeoutput_4c7

The second part of the governments fee plan to pay for the court system was to also include a flat fee of £2,000 per application to be paid by the applicant.

Luckily we were given the chance, through ALEP, to be able to talk to members of the DCLG before they made this final.

I was able to explain in detail how disastrous this would be to leaseholders and how much power it would put in the hands of freeholders enabling them to act even more unreasonably in negotiations.

Thankfully, the DCLG agreed to drop this second part to their proposal of increased fees.

The ‘Mundy’ decision

The much anticipated decision in the Mundy case was handed down in May this year and it has caused a seismic shift in the landscape of lease extensions.

The case, which is eye wateringly complicated, was trying to decide a method of calculating how the short lease of a property, of anything below 80 years, effects the value of it.

The behemoth that is the Wellcome Trust spent a fortune in discrediting Parthenia’s valuation model that looked to make the calculating of this loss of property value scientific and less partisan (and ergo fairer to leaseholders). ‘Accepted’ relativity graphs have always been paid for and pushed through the courts by wealthy freeholders to benefit their interests and this case was no different.

Click here to read more details of the case but it should come as no surprise that the uber rich Wellcome trust won the case adding millions to the value of their portfolio.

This has meant that the cost of extending a lease that has fallen below 80 years has risen dramatically. For example, a flat worth £400,000 with 70 years left to run on the lease will now pay around £8,000 more for a lease extension after this decision.

Good news for the already bloated freeholders but it is a wholly unfair result for leaseholders who find themselves caught in the leasehold trap.

At a valuers seminar I attended a couple of months ago, the normally dour grey-suited freeholder’s valuers were positively clicking their heels and dancing with glee at the thought of all these additional unearned fees.

When someone in the audience pointed out to the valuers on stage how unfair this Mundy decision was to leaseholders, an infamous valuer working for a large and difficult freeholder smirked and said “Life isn’t fair.”

As well as making freeholders even richer this case has caused a hardening of the freeholder’s stance across the board. This means leaseholders will have to attend the Tribunal more often to argue the unfair price demanded and pay both the application fee for doing so as well as huge fees of the professionals ‘defending’ them.

CONSOLS replace with the NLF rate
fullsizeoutput_4cdIn another complex development the government cancelled CONSOLS. This was an index used to value, amongst other things, the premium due to a head lessor for the loss of any ground rent due to them during a lease extension.

They replaced this with the wholly unsuitable National Loan Fund (NLF) which is a daily spot rate calculated on the day the Notice is Served. At its introduction the NLF rate was already considerably lower than the CONSOL rate and it continues to fall in line with the current, unprecedented, deflated interest rates.

This has real financial implications for leaseholders who have a head lessor on their property which has an element of the ground rent due to them. In a case we dealt with earlier this year the amount due to the head lessor under the old CONSOLS rate would have been £4,000 this was calculated to be £12,000 at the time of Notice Serving in September 2015. If we had Served Notice today, the amount due would be closer to £20,000!

Rule 13 wasted costs

A recent decision in the ‘Willow Court v Ms Alexandra’ case tried to make clear the qualifying criteria affecting anyone who wished to apply to have their legal fees paid for by the party who had brought an unnecessary and vexatious case against them at Tribunal.

Although the decision made it clear that this is not something this could be applied for automatically if decision went in your favour, it was only to be used only in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

The decision also stated that these application for costs should not “become a major case in its own right”

The truth is however that early evidence points to freeholders applying for these wasted costs every time they win a case to try to claim back their legal fees but more importantly to ‘teach’ leaseholders a lesson for daring to challenge freeholders in court and deter other leaseholders for going down that same route.

Right to manage by block

There was another inexplicable decision which earlier this year “Triplerose Ltd v Ninety Broomfield Road’ which seemed to go against the very spirit of the Right to Manage legislation.

This new ruling means that a right to manage application must now be done on a block by block basis. If you live on a development which contains four small blocks of flats all owned by the same freeholder, you must now make four separate applications for the right to manage. That’s four separate companies, four sets of directors and, obviously, four sets of fees and costs.

Freeholders already have a considerable collection of ruses to frustrate leaseholders who wish to take control the management of their own buildings, this decision has just added another powerful weapon to freeholders unwilling to let go of the cash cow that is management.

Ground rent scandals

This has been going on for a couple of decadesfullsizeoutput_4cb but it has certainly become big news this year with three different ground rent scandals hitting the headlines.

The first was over dodgy informal lease extension deals offered at Blythe Court in Birmingham. The freeholder there is Martin Paine, of whom Sir Peter Bottomley said ‘is a crook who is turning sleaze in leases into an art form’ at the recent debate on leasehold in Westminster.

Mr Paine sold informal lease extension of 99 years with ground rent doubling every 10 years. On completion, the leaseholders found the 99 years started from when the lease was originally granted, so the length of the lease remained the same but the new ground rent due was £8,000 a year making the flats worthless. Read the full story here.

Taylor Wimpey found themselves with a mountain of negative PR when it was brought to light that they had been selling houses as leasehold, instead of freehold, for the sole purpose of making themselves more profit while plunging their unsuspecting clients into a life time of unnecessary ground rent debt.

The telegraph also ran a story which we have been involved with which was a leasehold flat in Islington where grounds rents starting at £250 per year per flat would grow over the term of the 999-year lease to… £68,719,476,736,000 a year! A bargain.

So what does 2017 have in store for leaseholders?

I hate to be the bearer of more bad news but it looks like the freeholders are going to try to push their advantages even further next year using lower interest rates as a smoke screen to mask their naked greed.

In late 2016 we are already seeing the ‘professionals’ advising the large freeholders to try and argue lower capitalisation rates, which are used to calculate the ground rent due to a freeholder to compensate for the loss of ground rent, than those currently accepted.

An even bigger battle is brewing over the deferment rate which was set by ‘Sportelli’ in 2007. The deferment rate is used to calculate the amount due to a freeholder to compensate them for the reversion of a property. The lower the rate, which is currently 5%, the more you will have to pay the freeholder, a 1% reduction in this rate would have huge financial consequences for leaseholders across the country.

Potentially these will be one of the battle grounds of 2017 as bloated greedy freeholders look to get paid even more for a lease extension from their legally captivated victims the leaseholders.

Is there any good news at all?

unfairFor the first time in over a decade those fine people at the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership were the driving force to secure a debate on leasehold in Parliament a couple of weeks, ago which was a fiery damnation on the state of leasehold in this country.

To finally have political appetite looking at the injustices of this feudal system is a very good thing and may be the tool to fight the coming battles from greedy billionaire freeholders wishing to push their advantages.

With the political appetite comes serious interest from the press looking to expose even more of the dodgy dealings of these wealthy freeholders who live in the shadows while carrying out legal extortion on many millions of leaseholders. I have spent more time talking to the press about various leasehold scams in these last two months than I did for the previous eight years combined. There are some big exposés coming in 2017!

Finally, leaseholders themselves are becoming better informed and educated about leasehold abuses. If you find yourself in an unfair situation with your freeholder, make some noise about it! Contact your local MP and let them know, write to the papers, contact LKP and join the growing army of people demanding that this thousand-year-old feudal system should be ended once and for all.

©Barcode1966 – 2017

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The Truth About Virtual Freeholds

‘Virtual freehold’ has fast become the ubiquitous term that is used to describe a leasehold property with a long lease of, usually, 999 years. You regularly see it used in estate agent’s descriptions, developer’s brochures and auction houses.fullsizeoutput_479

The term suggests that you don’t need to be afraid when buying a leasehold property. It implies that this property won’t share the same nightmarish financial consequences that can exists with normal leasehold properties and that there is a good chance that this freeholder is ‘honest’ to grant you such a long lease in the first place.

Buying a ‘virtual freehold’ property can become a real nightmare though with terms so onerous it can seriously affect the future salability of your property and here’s why.

How big is the problem?

An excellent article which appeared in the Guardian, 29 October 2016, entitled ‘The new-builds catching house buyers in a leasehold property trap’ exposed the scandal of Taylor-Wimpey selling leasehold houses. These houses were being sold as ‘virtual freeholds’ with a 999-year lease but with onerous ground rents clauses which doubled regularly making the houses difficult to sell as the ground rent due per year becomes disproportionately high.

This is just the tip of the iceberg though.

For many years we have been aware of this very same tactic being used on tens of thousands of newly built leasehold flats across London.

For example, we helped a group of flat owners buy the freehold of their flats in Islington a couple of years ago at a newly built block. The ground rent clause was £250 a year doubling every 25 years for 999 years. We calculated the ground rent due for the last 25 years of the lease was £160,000,000,000 a year, a bargain!

Why do developers grant 999-year lease with high ground rents?

Developers generally sell the freeholds of their leasehold buildings before building work starts to professional ground rent investors. These investors want to make as much profit as possible from these freeholds so they request certain clauses are included in the leases before they buy. The developer will then also be able to sell the freehold for a much higher fee if they agree to include them.

For example, if a developer builds a block containing 200 flats and includes a standard ground rent clause that states the ground rent will be £100 a year doubling every 25 years, the total combined ground rent of all the flats that would be brought in over the first 100 years would be £7,500,000.

If they included a clause that states the ground rent will be £350 a year doubling every 25 years, the total combined income rises to £26,250,000! It’s easy to see why they do it.

The reason the leases are granted for 999 years though, is a stroke of pure evil genius from toxic unscrupulous freeholders. This is done to totally remove the motivation for the flat owners to ever group together and buy the freehold of their build meaning the freeholder loses their investments and feel sad.

fullsizeoutput_477It is done to ensure the freeholders retain permanent ownership of the property and it allows them to make lots of money from their captive leaseholders.

That’s because there are other ways a predatory freeholder can make money from leaseholders who have bought flats with these lease terms and it’s like shooting fish in a barrel for the freeholders.

Other ways freeholders can make money from ‘virtual freeholds’

A knowing freeholder can make even more money from service charges which tend to be high on new builds. Closely managing a building and having a separate company that carries out the work can be a gold mine for them. A cursory search on Google will reveal a depressingly high number of reports and court cases documenting these abuses.

Generally, these leases will also give the rights to insure the building to the freeholder who can then recover these costs from the leaseholders. We regularly see freeholders recommending a poor quality of insurance with high excess fees while they pocket, in our experience, 50% of these costs as ‘finder’s fees’.

Fees for licences and permissions can also bring in a considerable amount of profit to freeholders. We regularly see permissions to sub-let on these properties costing more than a thousand pounds a year. The cost of the permission legally required to sell a property from a freeholder, can often dwarf the total legal fees paid for conveyancing the sale of the property!

Leasehold houses too can see the cost of permissions being ridiculously high, we were speaking to the owner of a leasehold house recently who was being asked to pay the freeholder £15,000 for permission to build a conservatory on his own property!

What can you do about it?

fullsizeoutput_47bIt is assumed that most leaseholders wanting to buy a nice new shiny leasehold house or flat will probably not fully grasp the serious financial implications of owning a ‘virtual freehold’ property with onerous clauses until it’s too late.

Therefore, the only risk for developers in acquiescing to the freeholders demands for onerous ground rents and lease terms, is if the public find out and make a noise about it.

I’m sure Taylor-Wimpey are currently regretting selling leasehold houses with onerous ground rents due to the tsunami of bad press they are currently receiving.

So if you find yourself owning one of these flats or houses with these terms contact the developer and ask them why they did it. Get together and contact the press.

If you bought your flat on or after 1 October 2015 you are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This Act applies to the terms of a lease and if it is proved that the financial implications of a lease term were not fully explained to you, it would no longer be binding on you. If you group together with your neighbours you can split the cost of the legal fees of proving this.

If you bought your flat prior to 1 October 2015 you are still covered by Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and you could get legal relief from these onerous terms if you can prove they are unfair.

Did your solicitor clearly inform you about the real implications of the terms of this lease when you were purchasing the property? If they didn’t you could have a claim against them for professional negligence and there are many easy to find guides on how to do this available.

Think about buying the freehold of your building and ridding yourself of the freeholder once and for all. Although the ground rent is high so the compensation you would have to pay the freeholder would be higher than normal, there is no reversionary interest to pay nor marriage value meaning it would be much cheaper to buy the freehold if you have a 999-year lease than it would if your lease was just 99 years long.

Write to your MP. The only real way to bring lasting change to the hugely flawed leasehold system is to change the legislation that surrounds it. This change can only come about when there is political appetite for change and sadly, I do not believe that exists right now.

If it did though it would stop this legal money making scam at the expense of leaseholders, once and for all and all of us can collectively add our voices to this demand and make a difference.

©Barcode1966 – 2016

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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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The truth about legalese in leasehold

Why do we get more legal protection as consumers when we buy a cheap mobile phone for £10 a month than we do when we buy a flat for four million pounds?

6a016306ae679a970d016769195101970bWhy is it so difficult to read and understand the terms of a lease?

Does anyone else find it odd that the leases which lay down the details for leasehold property ownership, the terms and regulations on how we can live in the property and the very important small print that can
have significant financial implications, are all purposefully written in a way meant to obscure their meaning?

In every other area of our consumer lives the laws protecting us are tightening up, culminating in the recent Consumer Rights Act 2015, as legislation looks to legally protect the consumer from unscrupulous business practices and see that they not tricked confused mislead or ripped off when signing a contract.

One of the few types of contracts being excluded from the draconian Consumer Rights Act 2015 is the lease of a property which seems odd. The Act states that the only contracts that are legally excluded from being protected by the Act are contract that relate to ‘the creation or transferal of property’.

Why is that?

Why is the contract, that involves the biggest and most important purchases of our lives, purposefully excluded from legislation that is designed to protect us from the crooks?

Let’s look at a real example of this.

Imagine you have bought a flat and you want to look at your lease to see how much your ground is, how much it will rise to and when, which should be a pretty straightforward thing to do surely?

All these details are contained in your lease so you settle down with a cup of tea and a copy of your lease and start to read.

It may firstly take you a few seconds to establish if you are the lessor, landlord, lessee or tenant. Once that is done you can proceed.  18m9x8

(The details below come from an actual lease which I had on my desk at the time of writing, I didn’t choose it because it was overly complicated it was just one that had been printed out, I’ve seen more complex ones than this)

So remember you are looking for how much your ground rent is, what it will increase to and when. Here is what the lease says:

“Schedule Four

Rent payable hereunder by the tenant

  • “The rent shall be fixed for each of the following periods:

First period                 First 25 years

Second period            26th to 50th years

Third period                51st to 75th years

Fourth period              76th to 100th years

Fifth period                  101th to 125th years”

So that is the timing for your ground rent schedule, a little convoluted but it isn’t impossible to comprehend.

So first bit done, now much is the rent? The lease continues to explain it for us.

“For the first period the rent shall be two hundred and fifty pounds per annum”

Crystal clear! That’s not difficult to follow at all! What’s all the fuss about? This lease reading business is a doddle!

What happens after the first 25 years though?

“For each subsequent period the rent shall be the value of the ‘current rent guide’ (which is defined below) on the last day of the previous period

  1. Initially the current rent guide shall be computed by the formula

                                                             250.00 x          A

                                                                                       B

Where A is the most recently published value of the general index of retail prices complied before the 1st of June 1988

The said formula shall continue to be used notwithstanding that its name be changed or that it be published by a different department so long as the government for the time being continues to compile and publish it on substantially the same basis as the date hereof”

All you want to know is how much is your ground rent is going to increase by in the future. What is all this A over B nonsense?

It now looks a tad confusing but have no fear it looks like number 3 Is going to shed light on the whole issue.

“3. If in circumstances set out below the index used for calculating the current rent guide shall be changed it shall therefore be computed by the formula

                                                            R x       C

                                                                        D

 Where R is the most recent value of the current rent guide at the date of the change of index:

 C is the most recently published value of the new index

And

D is the value of the new index on the date of the change of that index.”

I hope that is now clear to you all, it’s as easy as RDC.

I know what you are all worrying about now though, I can worryingly hear you all asking the question collectively “What happens if Retail Prices are recalibrated?

Well don’t worry about it for a second as the lease makes it very clear what you need do!

“4. If the General Index of Retail Prices shall be recalibrated it shall be deemed to be a change of index for the purpose of foregoing paragraph”

If you are thinking that could possibly have been explained a little clearer then worry ye not, as the lease includes a rather helpful example.

“Explanatory Example

If on the last day of October 1990, when the index stands at 425, the Department of Employment resets the Index to 100, the current rent guide will be

                                                            250.00 x          100 equals 58.82

                                                                                    425

so that immediately thereafter it will become

                                                            58.82 x            C

                                                                                    100

where C is the current value of the (recalibrated) index”

Pretty clear I’m sure you will agree. You now know your ground rent timings, how much it will rise by per schedule and what will happen if the Retail Prices are changed or recalibrated.

Wait! good God man! What will we do if the Retails Price Index is cancelled? Like me, you probably wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if we don’t find an answer to this burning question but once again the lease comes to our rescue.

“5. If the index currently being used for the purpose of computing the current rent guide shall cease, then both the Lessor and Lessee shall use the new index of the closing middle price of gold sovereigns of the weight and fineness set out in Schedule 1 of the Coinage Act 1971. The said closing middle price shall be the price quoted at, and published with the authority, the London Stock Exchange”

20150820-Legalese-is-optional-you-can-write-a-contract-400x532I can’t help feeling that the terms of the lease are a little slapdash as they do not explain how the ground rent uplift should be calculated if the London Stock Exchange is ever closed or if England were to sink into the sea or we are taken over by aliens from another planet who replace our current currency with monkey nuts but I’m afraid it’s all we have to go on.

What nonsense this all is. Why is it allowed to continue like it has? Why can’t leases and legal documents be protected by the same consumer laws that protect why we sign up for a loan? Why can’t they be written in clear understandable way that anyone can understand?

The average leaseholder would probably feel compelled to take some sort of legal and valuation advice on the above terms, and have to pay handsomely for the privilege, to feel secure in their decision to purchase the property.

A MORI poll published in May 2016 found that 21% of people paying for legal advice sought advice on issues surrounding property ownership (excluding conveyancing). That’s a good little earner for solicitors right there, how much do these obfuscated legal terms found in leases contribute to this figure?

We all seem happy to accept the fact that the lawyers we pay to write lease terms in legalese are the only people who can translate these terms back into English for us, for a fee. It’s ludicrous.

How would we all react if suddenly all mobile phone contracts were written in Klingon and we had to pay a Klingon expert £300 per hour to translate the contract into English for us? (With a small print caveat to say that “Although we have retained to translate this mobile phone contract from Klingon into English for you, we cannot be held financially accountable if in fact it turns out that our advice is in Betacrypt as we acted in good faith blah blah blah)

How much easier would it be for the leaseholder if the terms of the lease were written in a no-nonsense way designed to be understood by all? For example:

“1. The ground rent schedule for your property is as follows:

Your Ground rent is £250 per annum for the first 25 years of the lease. This increases every 25 years in line with the Retail Price Index.

If the Retail Price Index is recalibrated, then we will divide the new rate with the old rate to ensure that the ground rent increase is fair and proportional”

Imagine if all the terms of your lease were written in the same, clear manner and were written in such a way that everyone could understand their meaning and be able to make informed decisions as to property ownership and the small print that governs leasehold life.

One of those conspiracy theorists people would say that this is all done on purpose to ensure that flat owners don’t understand what they are signing up for and so get ripped off by predatory billionaire freeholders who use legalese to their financial advantage on a daily basis.

Of course, I am wearing a tin foil hat to protect my brain from these conspiracies and so I don’t subscribe to this view at all.

Complaints procedure for the article above

If the article and thesis you have perhaps promptly ponderously painstakingly pedantically perused on this digital platform or ergo a facsimile of said digital reproduction of said pertinent presentment has aggrieved disaffected exasperated or offended any members, associates or affiliates of the legal profession or you postulate that has in some way infringed any intellectual property rights or prerogatives then:
Please present a physical or electronic signature for yourself or for a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed. Identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site.
Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material. Providing URLs in the body of an email is the best way to help us locate content quickly. A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
Once you have collated said materials then procure or solicit a fowl of the Columbidae varity and securely affix said documentation to its person and dispatch said Columbidae fowl to us post haste ensuring said animal has the navigational wherewithal to elicit a satisfactory completion of said delivery.

©barcode1966 – 2016

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Upper Tribunal takes billions away from leaseholders and gives it to freeholders on ‘flawed relativity’

Banner-LogoLast week the Upper Tribunal handed down its decision on a case that is known as ‘Hedonic Regression’.

Due to its complex nature only a small number of people seemed interested in it and fewer still understood the importance of the decision. It is no exaggeration to say that the implications and fallout will trigger the biggest transfer of wealth from leaseholders to freeholders since 1066.

Once the lease length of a property has fallen below 80 years it is said to be worth less than its full value. For every year the lease length continues to fall it loses even more of its value. This is known as ‘relativity’.

When a leaseholder extends their lease, they are directed – by law – to pay 50% of the resulting uplift in the property’s value; the lower the relativity, the more money the freeholder receives, so it has always been in their interests to ‘prove’ low relativity.

Some two decades ago, a number of London’s landed estates decided to commission the development of their own relativity graphs. These graphs, produced by chartered surveyors and estate agents (no, really!), would offer ‘evidence’ from lease extension cases with which they had dealt, but which obviously ‘proved’ low values on flats with low leases. This ‘evidence’ and the resulting ‘methodology’ would then ensure they were able to squeeze much more from their leaseholders.

These mighty freeholders had the wealth and power to ensure that their flawed graphs were used at the Lands Tribunal time and time again until such time that they were ‘accepted’ as viable methods or even ‘industry standard’.

For example, the Gerald Eve Graph (GE) is widely considered to be the ’industry standard’ even though the ‘Hedonic Regression’ decision says of it:

 “The GE graph was adjusted subjectively” (65, p78); that it was “directed to the particular requirements of the Grosvenor Estate” (65); and the “Grosvenor Estate had received relatively favourable settlements” because of it(8, p67)”.

So, no proof offered, no evidence given, subjectively altered to suit the pockets of the central London estates but at the same time accepted as the ‘industry standard’.

This clearly means that leaseholders have been railroaded into paying more for their lease extensions than they would have if a less subjective way of calculating the real fall in the value of a property with a short lease were in place.

Parthenia, headed by James Wyatt FRICS, produced a graph that did that very thing, that was less subjective and based on real evidence. It used real evidence from the sale of flats in Prime Central London and by using nearly 8,000 pieces of evidence, tried to calculate this loss of value scientifically and remove the subjectivity of wholly partisan practitioners.

Once the freeholders had sight of the results of this statistical analysis, two things became immediately apparent. Firstly, leaseholders had been paying already bloated freeholders considerably too much for their lease extensions for decades. Secondly, these freeholders would be prepared to do anything in their power to stop this new relativity graph ever from being accepted, as it would wipe billions off the value of their property portfolios. So stop it they did.

The decision, an 80-page tome, was handed down last week and it must be singularly the most partisan, hypocritical and disingenuous legal decision for decades.

In a further overreaching pronouncement (which in gravity matched the orders to destroy the city of Tyre) they state “[the HR model] should not be put forward in a future case as a method of valuing [a lease extension] (165,p43)”. They wanted to exterminate this valuation model that was not only fair, but favoured leaseholders.

It examined the Parthenia model in eye-watering detail, with experts lining up to disprove it; the Wellcome Trust alone is rumoured to have spent many hundreds of thousands of pounds on its legal defence, even though the total disputed amount of this case was only £180,000. The judges subsequently rejected Parthenia’s model for ever for having some technical errors, which they stated could never be righted. This was experts gleefully ruled against its use on the basis that it was “unscientific” and it failed some of the tribunal’s ‘necessary technical tests’. This was setting very high standards indeed for relativity graphs. They helpfully reviewed all other existing graphs in Appendix C (p66) so how did the others fair?

In Appendix C, the judges cheerfully assassinate all the other ‘accepted’ relativity graphs the sector on which the sector relies.

The GE graph was “altered subjectively” (63, p77); achieving “favourable settlements”(8,p67) for the freeholders who funded the graph; of the College of Estate Management (CEM) graph, “there was no evidence that …had used it” (67, p79); John D Wood was based on LVT decisions and where there had been “concerns expressed over whether the LVT decisions always produce a correct valuation”(43,p74); The WA Ellis graph just reflected “the opinion of three of that firm’s partners” (69, p79); Charles Boston’s graph would “reflect any personal bias” and the Cluttons graph was “a moving average” (70, P79)!

The staggering hypocrisy, circular logic and Kafkaesque graph-011reasoning of the decision is right here; although all of the above graphs are proven to be unscientific, subjectively altered to suit their freeholder clients, and based on opinions and personal bias and nothing else.

Nowhere does this decision say that these flawed graphs a “should not be put forward in a future case”, no that judgment is reserved just for Parthenia’s model alone!

Worse still is the fact the failings of these graphs are mentioned as some dry mathematical calculation, which are undeniably slanted to favour freeholders. No mention is made of the fact that it is leaseholders who have had to pay inflated prices for lease extensions because of these graphs – and to the tune of many millions of pounds. The human cost of these subjectively altered graphs is a scandal, which is completely ignored by this case.

If, for example, a building firm had overcharged a little old lady for roof repairs to the same degree, they would have several episodes of Rogue Traders dedicated to them and a two-page spread in the Daily Mail, not to mention a special place in a police cell reserved for them!

If we can’t use the Partnenia model, nor any of the other fabricated relativity graphs we have relied on, how do we calculate relativity from now on?

Here comes the next inexplicable part of this decision, which, again, favours the freeholders and makes sure leaseholders pay for it.

There are two types of evidence used when trying to plot relativity data for leasehold properties. The Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 states the values should take place in a ‘no Act world’ arguing that once the Act come into being it affected the values of short lease properties. Therefore, the pure sales data used should come from before 1993. These are referred to ‘without rights’ properties.

The second type of data is ‘with rights’ (post-1993 evidence). Once this data is collated, it then needs to be adjusted down to guestimate the percentage difference between ‘with rights’ and ‘without rights’ values.

Remember, the lower the relativity percentage the more money the freeholder makes.

Well, the judges in this case seem to indicate that we should use a ‘with rights’ graph and then someone with a fancy London office, who represents the freeholder, uses their considerable experience to guess how low the percentage should be.

What could possibly go wrong with that method?

Although the judges mention the Savills 2002 graph as flawed but good (it has very low relativity rates) it seems they and the freeholders are all waiting expectantly for the new, improved Savills 2015 ‘with rights’ graph. This is also a relativity graph based on the Hedonic Regression method of valuation. Although this model, like Parthenia’s model, currently has technical faults, the judges for some reason do not proclaim that this graph should be cast out forever.

It may be worth mentioning at this point that the Savills 2015 graph “was produced specifically to be part of the Wellcome Trust’s evidence in relation to flat 5 [of this case]” (54, p75).

This is really bad news for leaseholders as this graph agues even lower relativity than the Gerald Eve graph, etc. and the rates can be argued down by an ‘experienced valuer’ to calculate how much lower this should be to account for the ‘no act’ world.

It is, however, good news for freeholders and good news for valuers, solicitors and barristers as this will lead to more litigation, which just like this judgment will come down in favour of the billionaire freeholders.

This case has been a dream result for the Wellcome Trust. If the court room was situated in Wellcome’s offices and the judges were salaried employees of theirs, they could not have got a more favourable result! They disproved the Parthenia Model, got it banned ever from being put forward in the tribunal again. They won the actual case on the three disputed flats and they got their mates, Savills, to produce a relativity graph that the judges loved and recommended we all use from now on, which lowers relativity even more in their favour. That really was a good day at the office.

Can it really be acceptable that two part-time judges who preside over the humble Upper Tribunal have the authority to make a judgment which affects property values across the whole country without political debate or the need for legislation?

Can it be fair that the methods used to ‘prove’ that this transfer of wealth from leaseholders to the establishment is based, by their own admission, on flawed evidence?

1528622_10152538665934745_1047791817_n1-150x150Can there be no redress to this decision? It irresponsibly casts doubt on the current flawed method of valuation while offering no viable alternative, thus opening the door to prodigious amounts of litigation to establish valuations which almost always favour billionaire freeholders?

Surely we need a judicial review as a matter of urgency before the ridiculously unfair and antiquated leasehold system we have in this country takes on a new more sinister twist.

This decision on relativity, which has just been fixed even further to favour freeholders is the LIBOR scandal of the property world.

©Barcode1966 – 2016

 

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The truth about freeholders’ dirty tricks

The following blog lists many of the ways freeholders and their oily solicitors and valuers use underhanded tricks to gain unethical, financial advantages over flat owners when extending leases.

I am Managing Director of a company that carries out the most lease extensions per year, on behalf of flat owners, in this country.

As such, I oversee the extension of thousands of leases each year and it is truly nauseating to see multi-millionaire freeholders regularly use unfair advantage and deficiencies in leasehold legislation as weapons to wring even more money from unsuspecting flat owners.

This is intended as a leasehold flat owner’s guide to some of the main tricks used and also give some tips on the best ways to counter them.

Trick #1dr-evil-freeholder

The freeholder’s counter offer will be huge!

Why is it unfair?

You must legally make an opening offer for the cost of your lease extension and your offer has to be ‘reasonable’. The freeholder does not have the same limitations when making their counter offer, it can be as big as they like! It is often a disproportionately large amount!

It is an unethical ploy.

Why do they do it?

Firstly, they hope it will be so shocking compared to the amount your valuer told you to expect to pay that you will withdraw from the transaction altogether.

If that ploy fails, their second hope is that it stretches your expectation of what the final amount is you will have to pay.

Thirdly, you may often find that an offer of an informal lease extension directly follows a high counter offer. (Click here for my full rebuttal of informal lease extension offers)

How can you counteract it?

I see many people, who are not necessarily clients of ours, become very upset and agitated when they receive the counter offer.

The way to counteract it is to expect the counter offer to be ridiculously high and completely ignore it when it arrives as it is 100% stuff and nonsense.

Also, do not take their informal offers!

Trick #2dr-evil-freeholder-6yhf0a

Freeholders completely ignore the flat owner during the six-month period of negotiation.

Why is it unfair?

During the six-month period of negotiation in the statutory time frame of a lease extension, the cost of the lease extension and the terms of the lease MUST be agreed.

If not, the flat owner has to pay to make a protective application to the FtT to extend this time frame or lose their legal right for a lease extension.

If the latter were to happen, the flat owner would have to wait 12 months before they could start the lease extension process again and they would be liable for all abortive legal and valuation fees for both sets of solicitors and valuers.

The flat owners must pay to make this application regardless of the fact that the delay may have been purposely caused by the freeholder!

Why do they do it?

To be nasty.

It is pure bloody-mindedness as freeholders know the flat owner will have to pay these additional fees and they will never be charged or brought to task for acting in such an unreasonable way.

It is a way of punishing flat owners for daring to want a lease extension and letting them know that the future negotiations will be brutal for them.

How can you counteract it?

Negotiate how much your solicitor will want for them to serve an FtT protective application on your behalf, BEFORE you agree to use that particular solicitor.

You will get the work involved in the application much cheaper by negotiating while the solicitor is quoting upfront to get your new business than as opposed to this arising once you are a client of the solicitor.

If possible, try to extend your lease at the same time as many of your neighbours as possible and negotiate group discounts with your proposed solicitor and valuer.

Trick #3dr-evil-freeholder-vg9ny1

Freeholders refuse to enter into negotiations on statutory lease extensions; instead they try to bully the flat owner into accepting their ‘easy’ informal offer.

Why is it unfair?

You have a legal right for a lease extension of an additional 90 years with zero ground rent. Freeholders try to distort this right by making the statutory route seem so difficult and fraught that the ‘informal’ route seems the easiest or only option.

Why do they do it?

If you extend your lease by way of your statutory right the freeholders lose their investment, your flat, and their chances of making even more money from you.

If you fall for their trick and accept the informal offer, they will make an absolute fortune from you in the future for decades to come.

How can you counteract it?

Don’t accept their informal lease extension offer, even if your freeholder is telling you to accept it. Do your own research, read my blog or watch my video.

Trick #4dr-evil-freeholder-iqik2b

The freeholders try to include new terms into your lease, which hugely favour their own interests.

Why is it unfair?

Your freeholder does not have a legal right to insert new clauses into a lease during a statutory lease extension. They try to sneak them in by ensuring the new lease is sent back to your solicitor very close to the statutory deadline.

This means your solicitor will have to inform you that if you do not accept the illegal terms inserted you will have to pay court fees.

Why do they do it?

For a variety of reasons. In the case of new licences they insert, they want to make more money from you.

They may try to insert new terms relating to the recoverable court fees through service charges. This could mean that if you sue them in the future (even if you win!), they can add their legal fees onto your service charges. Click here to read this horror story.

They will often include new terms that relate to breaches of lease terms and what actions they can take. Here they want more power over you, the ability to charge more fees and a better chance of getting forfeiture of your flat.

Are these new terms they are trying to unfairly insert in your lease important? You bet!

How can you counteract it?

As with Trick #1, negotiate the fees for these applications with your chosen solicitor before you agree to give them any work.

If possible, extend your lease at the same time as a neighbour or a group and negotiate a group discount before hand.

Instruct your solicitor that you will not accept onerous terms included in your lease.

If you go to the FtT to fight these inclusions you will win outright, as your freeholder is breaking the law by including them in the first place. They will never want to attend the FtT to argue their right to include new terms – they are just trying it on.

Trick #5dr-evil-freeholder-7u7l4x

The cost of the lease extension.

Why is it unfair?

The freeholder is entitled to receive the combination of ground rent, reversion and marriage value, as set down by law, as the ‘fair cost’ of a lease extension.

However, they will often add a fourth element of the valuation; that is, how much it would cost you to take them to the FtT to argue the much higher costs they have settled on, refusing to negotiate further.

This unfairly revolves around the fact that the flat owner will have to pay to challenge an unreasonable freeholder and the costs of doing this are considerable.

Why do they do it?

To make more money from you.

How can you counteract it?

Extending your lease at the same time as your neighbours is one of the few counter measures to this unreasonable action from a freeholder. Ensure that you have negotiated group discounts for multiple applications.

If you are not part of a group it is tougher but encourage your valuer to keep negotiating and keep the lines of communication open with your freeholder.

It can sometimes work to bluff the freeholder in thinking that you are happy to attend the FtT on a point of principle, as no one wants to actually attend the FtT – it is just a big bluff.

Trick #6dr-evil-freeholder-x27jzf

Absurd Section 60 costs!

Why is it unfair?

The flat owners have a legal obligation to pay the ‘reasonable’ legal and valuations fees incurred by the multi-millionaire during this process. These are the freeholder’s Section 60 costs.

Many of the professionals who work for the freeholder view this as a free hit and charge the flat owner far too much for their services.

Another shameless trick perpetrated by the valuer who works for your freeholder relates to his own fees. The valuer may only agree on the cost of the lease extension if you first agree his personal, much inflated fee for the work he has done. That way he ensures he will be paid handsomely for his couple of hours of work.

This one disgusts me to the core; not only are they being pig greedy, but they are selling out their own client for their personal gain. Nice! (To see how to get over this trick, read to the end)

Why do they do it?

Simply put it is pure greed. This is considered one of the benefits for representing the freeholder for professionals, i.e. the chance to charge what they want for their work.

Furthermore, the nastier valuers and solicitors become when they represent freeholders, the better a chance they have of getting more work from them, and hence the tricks I list in this article.

How can you counteract it?

Always challenge Section 60 costs! It is a written challenge that needs to be submitted to the FtT by your solicitor, so generally no one needs to attend the court.

Be aware that challenging Section 60 costs is not always a popular thing to do for some solicitors, as they could find themselves on the opposite side of the fence a week later.

Some solicitors are afraid that their arguments of this week could be used against them next week, to reduce their own fees.

Obviously, neither you nor I should be concerned about this. A solicitor’s duty of care is to get the best possible deal for their client – you! It may be prudent to clarify with your solicitor when you are looking to engage them that you will want them to challenge unreasonable Section 60 fees as part of the transaction.

How to deal with the solicitors and valuers of the freeholder.

imagesI can tell you, from personal experience, that many (but not all) of the professionals who represent the major freeholders are awful, amoral people. They will, however, argue until they are blue in the face that they do not do anything illegal but it is in fact the flat owners who are the problem by daring to want a lease extension in the first place.

Well here is a little-known fact. You have a legal right to complain about the freeholder’s solicitor and valuer if you have evidence that they have not acted honourably.

You may also be very glad to know that it is a very big deal when you complain about a solicitor or valuer to their professional bodies!

For valuers, click here and complain directly to the RICS about the actions of the valuer. The RICS has a code of ethics which state: ‘Members shall at all times act with integrity and avoid conflicts of interest and avoid any actions or situations that are inconsistent with their professional obligations’.

For solicitors, their code of ethics state that they must: 1 Uphold the rule of law. 2 Act with integrity. 3 Not allow their independence to be compromised. 4 Act in the best interest of each client.

If you feel you have not been treated fairly, you will firstly need to trigger an internal complaint for that solicitor. Solicitors have to take this very seriously indeed and will probably inform their PI insurers too. The PI people become a time-consuming nightmare for solicitors.

If you are unhappy with the result, you can complain directly to the SRA by clicking here.

Conclusion

Anyone with an ounce of decency will be disgusted by an industry and their ‘professional’ advisers, who gleefully use a whole raft of inequitable tricks to gain a dishonorable and immoral advantage over flat owners.

I wish I could say the above is a definitive list but, sadly, it is not! I didn’t want to write a ‘how to be a bastard freeholder’ guide here though so I focused on the most often used tricks instead.

I genuinely hope the above information will help you when you are extending your lease. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

The above text is from a (very unpopular) speech I gave for the Leaseholder’s Valuers Forum, at the Law Society 12/11/2015.

©Barcode1966 – 2016

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