National property developer called to account

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Development: Quakers Court
Location: Abingdon
Number of properties: 74

Quaker’s Court in Abingdon is a mixed development of 67 leasehold and 8 freehold properties.

The problem

Common Ground was appointed as managing agent in December 2011. At the time of appointment, there were a number of significant management issues that needed to be resolved:

  • A number of snagging items had not been completed by the developer
  • The site is complex with several cost centres, however, the lease did not define how to apportion costs and many leaseholders were withholding payment of service charges
  • A number of outstanding maintenance items had not been attended to
  • There little cost control and the reserves had been depleted

The solution

Common Ground worked closely with a newly appointed board of directors to create a plan to resolve these issues. Firstly, we applied to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (now the First Tier Property Tribunal) to gain a judgement on the budget and service charge dispute. The budget created by Common Ground was approved and the judgement allowed us to collect the withheld service charges. Secondly, we met with the developer and gained agreement to rectify a number of outstanding issues including £55,000 of roof modifications (all funded by the developer). Thirdly, we agreed an action plan to manage the outstanding maintenance items and ensure that these were done within the agreed budgets. Finally, we conducted a review of all expenditure at the site and we were able to reduce expenditure by 20% in 2012 (compared to 2011 expenditure). At the time of writing (February 2016), Common Ground has maintained this level of cost control. This was achieved through the following measures:

  • Multiple site visits to ensure contractors were clear on our expectations
  • Employing local contractors (the agent had employed contractors local to themselves which incurred unnecessary travel costs)
  • Obtaining payments from other parties where services were shared – specifically, sewage pumps that were shared with another development.
  • Scrutinising all invoices prior to payment. We quickly discovered that the previous managing agent had being paying the electricity bill for a neighbouring development. We secured a £3,500 refund from the electricity supplier

Although Common Ground does the day to day management of the site, the directors of the Resident Management Company are very active and involved. One of the resources they have found particularly useful is the online access to the accounts system. This has allowed them to monitor the finances of the estate in real time. Common Ground uses the Xero accounts system and is a silver level partner.

UPDATE – July 2020
In 2015, Common Ground had the fire safety survey fully updated and this identified a number of areas of possible non-compliance. This was followed up with a type 2 fire safety assessment by a specialist contractor to identify areas of non-compliance. The works required were substantial with quotes as high as £750,000 to rectify known issues. The situation was further exacerbated by the revelation that NHBC had issued the building compliance certificate so a dispute between NHBC and the developer ensued as to which party should pay. One of the RMC directors engaged the local MP (Layla Moran) and finally a date to commence works was agreed. As of July 2020, the works were completed (pending inspection) and Common Ground ensured that the whole project was at zero cost to the leaseholders.

UPDATE – October 2022
The building has been granted a fire safety certificate based on the fire safety compliance of the building. Common Ground has previously approached both Persimmon Homes and NHBC to establish who signed off the original building compliance certificate when the building was quite clearly not fire safe. Neither party would reveal this.

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