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Leaseholders: Management Companies

Volume 838: debated on Monday 20 May 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to make it easier for leaseholders to change the management company that delivers services to them, other than by increasing transparency.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I refer the House to my relevant register of interests and the fact I am a leaseholder.

My Lords, the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill makes it cheaper and easier for leaseholders to buy their freehold or exercise the right to manage, allowing them to take over management of their buildings themselves and directly appoint or replace agents. Of course, Section 24 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 allows leaseholders to apply to a tribunal to appoint an alternative property manager if there has been significant management failure.

My Lords, the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill before your Lordships’ House must rank as one of the most disappointing pieces of government legislation in recent years—and it is a competitive list. There have been nearly five years—not five weeks or five months—of hype and promise, and extraordinarily little action from the Government. When can we expect action to regulate management companies, along the lines of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Best, and when will the Government deliver the promises they have repeatedly made but are just not delivering?

My Lords, we have been very clear, and the Secretary of State was very clear, that we cannot support establishing a new regulatory body at this time and through this Bill. Measures in the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill are there to protect and empower leaseholders, along with existing protections, and work undertaken by the industry will seek to make property management agents more accountable to leaseholders who pay for their services.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the Property Institute. The Government keep saying that they do not have time to implement RoPA; I do not believe it, and they could if they wanted to. In the meantime, at the request of people in the industry, I chaired the committee that set up a code of conduct; is there nothing the Government could do to at least endorse or make that code of conduct mandatory? That would help in making sure that all managing agents work to a high level.

My Lords, the Government welcome the ongoing work being undertaken by the industry, and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for the work she has done with her group on codes of practice. We have said that we will consider any code produced by her steering group, and come back to the House.

My Lords, the Competition and Markets Authority, in a recent report, was very concerned about the increasing practice of major housebuilders charging all the residents on new estates for common amenities such as roads, lighting and playgrounds, services traditionally provided by local authorities and paid for by council tax. Is the Minister confident that the measures in the Bill will ensure that prospective residents will be aware of the way that their new estate will be managed and the actual costs and services they will have to pay for before they buy? Does she agree with me that there is little justification for these residents to have to pay twice?

Through the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill the Government are legislating to make sure that freehold home owners who pay estate rent charges have the right to challenge the reasonableness, and to go to a tribunal to appoint a manager to manage the provision of those services, along with the transparency that they will also have in those charges. We are also carefully considering the response to and the recommendations of the CMA report published in February.

My Lords, in conditions where leaseholder landlords living overseas remain uninterested in block management—their only interest being the rent—where in the Bill is the legal obligation on managing agents to supply management committees with the valid names and contact details of these overseas landlord owners, enabling the seeking of their support for an RTM? Where, with notice, absentee landlords fail to indicate whether or not they support an RTM, surely their interests should simply be ignored. Indifference should not block progress.

My Lords, we are looking more closely at this issue, because the noble Lord is right—sometimes it can be more difficult. We have also recognised the participation rates, which can be affected by foreign owners. We have listened to the arguments raised in Committee and by MPs in the other place, and we will continue to consider the issues raised.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the extent of a stratagem whereby companies have acquired freeholds with the intention of removing the leaseholder occupants by undertaking works on the properties that the leaseholders cannot possibly afford to pay for? By these means the freeholder expects to compel the occupants to sell up. What redress is there against this stratagem?

I am not aware of this strategy on the part of freeholders, but I will look into it and come back to the noble Viscount.

My Lords, every day we see horror stories in the press of crippling increases in ground rents. After the Recess we go on to Report of the Leasehold and Reform Bill, but so far with no update from the Government on the ground rent consultation undertaken by them some time ago. Can the Minister tell us just what the proposals will be on ground rent?

I do not expect the noble Baroness to expect me to tell her that at an Oral Question, but the Government have been consistent that they have concerns about existing ground rents, and the adverse impact that ground rents have on leaseholders. We have consulted on a range of options to cap ground rents in existing leases. That consultation closed on 17 January and the Government will respond to it shortly.

My Lords, I am looking at the text of the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and I am trying to be helpful to my noble friend the Minister. In Scotland the management company is call the “factor”—a name that can conjure up nightmares or pleasant dreams depending on the experience. In 2011 we passed the Property Factors (Scotland) Act, one section of which allows home owners to make an application to the Homeowner Housing Panel for a determination of whether their property factor has failed to carry out their factoring duties, or failed to comply with the code. I wonder whether there is any useful guidance in that for my noble friend the Minister.

I think what my noble friend is suggesting is what we have in Section 24 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987, which allows leaseholders to apply to a tribunal to appoint an alternative property manager—or “factor”—if there has been significant management failure.

My Lords, over the last few years the Member for Surrey Heath in the other place has made some absolutely wonderful statements, promises and claims and given interviews on all sorts of things we all support. Why did none of them make it into the Bill?

I disagree with the noble Lord opposite. I think many of those things my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said have made the Bill, and I know from talking to him that he wishes he had more time and more capacity to do more.

My Lords, one pithy slogan that has come from the Government is that those who pay should have a say. I could not agree more. Will the Minister agree that, ultimately, the best solution for giving a say and empowering leaseholders would be ensuring that they have right to manage? I am not going to nag about this Bill, but does the Minister not agree that the best way of empowering for the future would be that all new flats are sold as commonhold or at least with a share of freehold? Even if this Bill cannot deliver because the Minister does not have time, and because of the complications that have been alluded to, would it not be resolved by having a sunset clause that would guarantee that this will happen in the future, so this Bill could at least leave that as its legacy?

I can only reiterate what I have said many times at the Dispatch Box: the Government remain committed to the widespread uptake of commonhold for flats. We have stopped commonhold for houses in this Bill, and we will set out our next steps in due course.

My Lords, is the Minister aware just how difficult it is to get rid of an incompetent management company? Such companies hide behind the excuse that they cannot get permission from all the people in the building. It is high time we dealt with this problem and stopped this terrible situation.

I agree that if you have a bad managing agent, it is not acceptable for any leaseholder. But, as I said, you can use Section 24. We are making it better with the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, and I am very happy to talk to the noble Lord about issues he may have encountered.