Strangled by Red Tape; Laws and Regulations Are Leaving Many Flat-Owners Struggling to Stay Afloat among the Hefty Bills and Paperwork, Says Jane Barry

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

Strangled by Red Tape; Laws and Regulations Are Leaving Many Flat-Owners Struggling to Stay Afloat among the Hefty Bills and Paperwork, Says Jane Barry


FLAT-owners are beginning to drown in a sea of red tape and it is costing them a packet. If you live in a freehold house, you only encounter bureaucracy when you carry out alterations. But during the past five years, legal controls have been piled upon leaseholders.

Here are just some of the laws any residents' management company must comply with on a regular basis: health and safety, general risk assessments, water checks for legionella bacterium, disability access, fire safety, electric wiring suitability and asbestos use. Oh, and a smoking ban in public areas.

If your block is a pre-1991 conversion, you may be classified as a House in Multiple Occupation, which will require more inspections and a local authority licence. If you need a new roof you cannot, like a house-owner, just go ahead and hire a contractor

you must conduct a lengthy and expensive consultation. And come October, whenever your managing agent sends a demand for service charges, a seven-page reminder of your rights and obligations must be included.

You cannot quarrel with these measures individually.

They are all intended to ensure blocks of flats are safe and well managed. But taken together they inflict a heavy penalty on flat-owners. The paperwork, inspections and reports do not come cheap. And you could end up with a hefty bill for work to ensure your building complies with the latest regulations.

Blocks built between 1930 and 1960 are worst hit, says Andrew McKeer, of managing agent Frank Bailey: "They fail any modern test, they don't have new building regulations fire insulation, they have cold water tanks on roofs." He cites a 155-flat, 1930s south London block he manages where he calculates the annual cost of complying with regulations is [pounds sterling]5,000. This includes [pounds sterling]1,700 yearly for water inspections, [pounds sterling]600 for maintaining the asbestos register, [pounds sterling]800 for a fire-risk report, [pounds sterling]250 for risk assessment, [pounds sterling]1,000 for a five-yearly report on the wiring, and the ongoing costs of an [pounds sterling]18,000 programme to replace the nine lattice lift gates, which, although an authentic period feature, fail new health and safety requirements.

Pensioners in a 20-flat 1960s block in Ealing managed by Laurence Read, of Castlebar, face a [pounds sterling]20,000 bill after a water inspection found rust in their 40-year-old tanks. …

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