Remedies for Leaseholders with an Absentee Landlord: Protecting Your Rights under UK Landlord and Tenant Law


16/11/2023

Author : Ian Barbar


Understanding Leaseholder Rights

Introduction
Living under an absentee landlord can present significant challenges for leaseholders. When service charges remain uncollected, it can lead to not only insurance lapses but also disrepair within the building. Fortunately, there are remedies available to leaseholders to address these issues under UK Law. This article will explore the rights and actions that leaseholders can use to protect both their interests and their living environment’s standards.

Understanding Leaseholder Rights
A. Reviewing the lease: Leaseholders should carefully review their lease to understand their rights and obligations, including the landlord’s responsibilities.
B. Exercising the Right to Manage (RTM): Leaseholders may have the right to form an RTM company. This enables them to take over the management of the building and address the issues caused by an absentee landlord.
C. Establishing a Residents' Association: Leaseholders can consider forming a Residents' Association to collectively address concerns and engage with the landlord or their managing agent.

Communicating with the Landlord
A. Notification of concerns: Leaseholders should document and notify the landlord in writing about their issues, such as uncollected service charges, lack of insurance, and disrepair while providing a reasonable timeframe for the landlord to address them.
B. Engaging with the managing agent: If a managing agent is responsible for the building, leaseholders can communicate their concerns directly and request prompt action.

Joining Leaseholder Associations and Support Groups

Leaseholder associations and support groups can be very helpful to confused leaseholders. These organisations can provide valuable advice, support, and a platform for collective action to address shared concerns with absentee landlords.

Seeking Legal Advice
A. Instructing a solicitor: If communication with the landlord or managing agent does not yield satisfactory results, leaseholders may seek legal advice from a solicitor specialising in landlord and tenant law.
B. Understanding the legal remedies: A solicitor can guide leaseholders on available legal remedies. These include: (i) applying to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) to resolve disputes or (ii) seeking a court injunction to enforce the landlord's obligations.

Exercising the Right to Withhold Service Charges

A. Setting criteria: Leaseholders can consider withholding service charge payments if certain criteria are not met, such as the landlord's compliance with lease obligations.
B. Establishing an escrow account: Leaseholders can set up an escrow account to hold the withheld service charges until the landlord fulfils their obligations.
C. Notifying the landlord: Leaseholders should inform the landlord in writing of their intention to withhold service charges. This allows for a detailed explanation of grievances and the steps required to rectify them.
D. Documenting evidence: It is crucial to document evidence of the landlord's failure to address concerns and any attempts made by the leaseholders to resolve them.

Conducting Regular Building Inspections

Leaseholders can organise regular inspections of the building to identify any maintenance or repair issues. By documenting these issues and presenting them to the landlord, managing agent, or relevant authorities, leaseholders can provide evidence of the building's deteriorating condition and the need for prompt action.

VI. Exploring Insurance Options

When the building is uninsured because of the landlord's negligence, leaseholders can investigate getting their own insurance policies. This protects their individual interests and mitigates potential financial risks resulting from damage or liability.

Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Before resorting to legal action, leaseholders can explore mediation or ADR to resolve disputes with the landlord. Mediation involves a neutral third party facilitating negotiations between the parties, aiming to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. ADR methods, such as arbitration or adjudication, provide alternative avenues for resolving disputes outside of court.


Involving the Local Authority

Leaseholders can involve the local authority if the conditions in the building pose health or safety hazards. This body has power to inspect and take enforcement action against landlords who cannot meet their obligations.

Applying for a Management Order

In extreme cases where the landlord's neglect and negligence is not only severe but also persistent, leaseholders can apply to the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) for a management order. This order transfers the management responsibilities to a new manager or a Resident Management Company, guaranteeing proper maintenance and management of the building.


Conclusion
Dealing with an absentee landlord is a challenging situation for leaseholders but it is important to remember that legal remedies and support exist under UK Law. By understanding their rights, communicating effectively, seeking legal advice, and exploring available options, leaseholders can take proactive steps to hold their landlord accountable and ensure their block of flats is properly managed and maintained.

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