A recurring theme is the challenges of communal living and accepting each other’s foibles and traits. I have often argued that to live in a block of flats requires a mind-set and a discipline of give and take with your neighbours.
I live in a block of flats and understand first-hand the needs and responsibilities flat-living brings. I have done so for over 15 years now and the lifestyle of one-floor living suits me and the lease is not a problem.
It is a world of difference to the buy-to-let investors who own leaseholds as their pension pot, looking to extract maximum value from their rental stream. Consequently I feel that we have to make sure when we are tackling challenges of leasehold that the perspectives being portrayed are truly reflected.
It leads to a discussion on whether the challenges faced by owner-occupiers of leasehold properties are different to investor owners. Logically the answer must be ‘yes’. For instance, living in a flat I want to know the building meets my needs and aspirations of how I want to live. Of course, that may not be the same as another owner-occupier with different living standards.
But for the investor they are logically looking to maximise their returns and therefore any money spent can be perceived as detracting from their income. Of course another investor may see benefit in spending money to drive a better return.
The prevalence of buy-to-let investment over the past decade and a half has meant most blocks are made up of a mix of owner-occupiers and investors’ renters. For those living in the building it is their home, and I would suggest they care in a different way to the absentee owner.
The faults that are raised in leasehold are all solvable with consensus, working together, collaboration, service delivery and openness. Of course, with any service it is easy for accusation, conflict and confrontation to arise. If the legal set-up is not correct from the start or there is poor drafting of a lease, that doesn’t make the system itself at fault, it means there needs to be more checks and balances on those areas.
In reality any system will have issues or the litigation lawyers would not have a living to make. Even the Australian ‘strata’ system which is held up as the ‘holy grail’ has the human issues of conflict, dispute and falling out which is a fact of communal living. I have remarked before how even freehold houses have dispute issues.
So it would be good if we can engender a debate on how we educate the leasehold market better on working together and problem-solving; to engage in debate and discussion to resolve issues. How we get all sides to play their part in the delivery of homes and services is key. If we can grow the debate, this would be of great benefit to all.
Roger Southam is chair of the Leasehold Advisory Service