Monday, 29 September 2008

Of leaks and leaseholds.

I should not have complained about the puddles. We now have a lake.

I live in a 1960s ex-council flat. Sorry, maisonette - it has its own front door. Bear with me; that's relevant. I share a wall with my next door neighbours, and my ceiling is my upstairs neighbours' floor. Upstairs' front door is at the side of the house, and their staircase runs between two of our bedrooms, giving us a handy little cupboard and a burning desire to ban all footwear from our nocturnally active neighbours. A quicker way of saying this would perhaps be to explain that we have totally separate entrances, we are aware of each others' lives in a way only close neighbours can be, but we live completely separate lives. Hmm, mostly separate - their bathroom stack runs through my bathroom. They like showers. At 2AM.

It's a block of four council flats. The previous residents of this flat chose to use their right to buy* and I am not at all bitter about the fact that they bought it at a huge discount and then sold it to me for lots more money. Not even the slightest little bit . I don't know about the neighbours next door, but upstairs is still social housing. I am a leaseholder - I pay a mortgage instead of rent, but am technically only buying the inside 50% of the flat. Outside walls, roof, guttering, etcetera, all belong to the Housing Association, and are their responsibility to maintain and repair. Tenants (as opposed to leaseholders) are not responsible for any of the maintenance beyond minor repairs and lightbulb replacements.

Still with me? Phew! On Friday as the girls and I were tidying the front garden a little, a man came out from the upstairs flat and asked if we lived downstairs. Suppressing the urge to inform him that the girls and I were some kind of maintenance crew, I replied in the affirmative. He then informed me that there is a problem with my water tank; it is leaking and has leaked so badly that the ceiling upstairs is now collapsing. Marvellous.

He was quick to inform me that this wasn't a problem; I'd be without water for half a day at some point whilst they fixed it, but that was all. It is apparently two large tanks which hold the water for both upstairs and downstairs.

Filing away the fact that it might be sensible to keep on top of the laundry mountain incase half a day without hot water becomes several days, I carried on with our weekend. This morning the same maintenance man spent several minutes hammering on my front door (I was at the back of the house), and asked to come in and investigate my boiler. Not a problem. Or rather, it wouldn't have been. Except that he and his team had been informed that I have a combi boiler and therefore don't need a storage tank in the attic any more, and so it would be absolutely fine for him to just take it out. Thankfully he came to check before doing so, and I showed him our ancient but working Baxi Bermuda.

Much scratching of head. "This is number 45 isn't it?" Nope, this is number 335**. "Oh, I thought this was number 35". Silence, as I bite my lip to avoid asking why on earth number 45 would be under number 33, and avoid asking him whether he actually read the numbers on the door he was hammering so hard at just minutes before. "Oh well, good news then, you'll be getting a new boiler upgrade!". I allow myself to be pleased at this thought for just a few seconds, before mentioning that I am a leaseholder not a tenant.*** Silence. A deep silence. A deep "this is going to cost you lots of money but I'm not the person with the authority to inform you of it" silence.

And then he left.

I phoned the Housing Association who seemed completely flummoxed, and reassured me that nothing would happen immediately. Since they were basing that reassurance on the fact that my upstairs neighbour has now refused to allow them access to the flat to make the repairs, and since I have already been informed that the floor under the water tanks is on the point of collapse, with 2 tonnes of water waiting to fall through at any moment, this is not entirely reassuring.

Apparently because I'm not a tenant, they don't have a file on my flat, so can't put a note on the file asking for me to be kept informed about what's happening. Because I'm not a tenant, it is my responsibility not theirs. But because their tenant will not allow anyone in, it's not anything any of us can deal with right now. Meanwhile upstairs has gone silent, and I'm wondering where exactly in the roof these tanks are; which of our rooms are in the danger zone. Or whether there is in fact any danger at all.

Now when British Gas told me my boiler was dead, they quoted £4000 to replace it with a combi system. Since that quote included £75 per radiator for a new valve (a part available at B and Q for £10), I'm reasonably certain that others could do it more cheaply. But, until someone gets in and looks at the tanks, I'm not sure whether it's necessary or not, and if it is necessary, how on earth to go about beginning to get it sorted.

Or is it all a storm in a teacup, will fixing the leak and repairing the ceiling solve the problem? Will the housing association continue to believe that I live in a house 10 doors down, and have they in fact sent all kinds of information to that house instead of to me? Will anyone take action to sort this out, does it in fact need sorting out at all, and has anyone managed to get through this whole ramble without falling asleep?


*I'm aware of the fact this will mean virtually nothing to my non-UK readers. A very basic summary - it's housing which is generally built to a decent but basic standard, leased out on long term leases to families and individuals, many of whom are on low incomes. Cheaper rents than many private rentals, with the right to pass tenancies down through the generations, the right to decorate internally however the tenant wishes, and in some cases the right to purchase the house at a significantly lower than market rate after you have paid rent on it for a certain number of years. This bit in particular was a loopy policy; with a housing shortage it has neatly reduced supply even further, but it has benefitted me so I shouldn't complain too hard.

**all numbers changed to give me the illusion of privacy.

***did consider not telling him, but I suspect they might have noticed eventually.


mq, cb said...

I had some thoughts about your post as I was reading it. I'm a lawyer, but unfortunately not a property lawyer, so what I've thought of may not be relevant because of how housing law works, and I daresay that you may have thought of it already. However, on the off-chance that it is helpful and without intending to be offensive, I could send you my comments if you would find that helpful. None of it is really rocket science; mostly it concerns how leases usually work and therefore by analogy what the HA should have to do for you, but as I say, I am not an expert in housing law.

You do have my sympathies though. My own very limited experience with housing associations concerned a tree in the garden of a HA property two doors up whose roots ended up growing under the foundations of the property which contains my flat and almost brought down my porch (which was sort of tacked on separately from the rest of the house). Despite the fact that the effect of the tree roots on the HA property was even worse, it took the threat of legal action to get the HA to do anything. All they had to do was chop down the tree and make sure it didn't grow back. They were absolutely hopeless, so looking on the bright side, at least your HA is already doing something, even if it is being (pardon the pun) a bit wet.

Anyway, I hope that it all works out for you without further incident. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

UGH! I'd really want to know where those tanks are! Cound be a rude awakening in the middle of the night!
Hope it is all sorted soon.


Anonymous said...

Sure hope you can get someone to give you some answers soon--
Having a little or large lake as the case may be just appear suddenly doesn't sound like much fun to anyone except maybe LF.?

Tia said...

Thanks for that. I'm actually pretty lucky - mostly the HA has been excellent. They need access through my flat on a semi regular basis to hoover out the drains, they maintain the guttering etcetera really well, they're very up front about extra costs on the service charge. Which makes it all the more surprising that there's so little communication about this. I think they're stumped as to what to do, need to get back in upstairs to check it all out and can't, so have filed it away and gone onto another job.

It doesn't help that most workmen realise I don't work outside the home and therefore assume that I don't actually ever need to leave the house, so will be happy to sit around all day waiting for them. That is unfortunately not limited to Housing Association staff though!

I have dug out my Leasehold agreement but suspect it's the old one rather than the shiny new one - lots of clauses about how I will clean my windows monthly (does anyone clean the outside of their windows monthly?), and will use clothespegs to hang clothes on communal clotheslines (we don't have communal clotheslines). Must hunt around some more for the proper one.


Tina said...

Sincerely hope and will pray this is resolved satisfactorily and with minimal cost to you...mostly though withought injury...

Elinor said...

We've lived in our house 10 years. I haven't cleaned the windows yet.

Seriously though, Tia. I hope this is all sorted soon.

Robyn said...

stick LF outside the upstairs tenant doors and let her say ELLO thousands of times until the tenant gets fed up and opens the door..then charge in!! :)


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