8 November 2018

Bristol Estate leasehold tribunal decision

The First-tier tribunal has issued its decision on the standard of the refurbishment work carried out by Brighton & Hove City Council on the Bristol Estate along with the liability of leaseholders in the buildings to pay service charges.

The tribunal supported the council’s position that the repairs were required and carried out to a reasonable standard, all processes were followed correctly and the service charge costs were reasonably incurred.

Under the terms of their lease, leaseholders are required to contribute towards repairs and maintenance of the building, and were consulted before work began. The council provided advice and a range of payment options, including interest free loans, to help people to pay for the work.

This decision affects five high rise buildings on the estate where external wall insulation, replacement roof coverings, windows and other repairs were carried out by the council at a cost of around £650,000 to each block between 2013 and 2015.

Thirty-nine leaseholders in the blocks received service charge bills of between £24,000 and £27,000 in September 2015, which were disputed by a number of leaseholders, with some withholding payment.

Efforts to try to resolve the matter, including through a dispute resolution process, were not successful and the council made the decision to refer the matter to an independent tribunal (the First-tier Tribunal Property Chamber under section 27A of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985). 

The council and the ‘Justice for Tenants’ group, representing 20 leaseholders, reached a financial settlement before the hearing, which took place on 25 September 2018.

In a written decision of 24 October 2018, Judge MA Loveday set out the tribunal’s findings:

  • The tribunal inspected the premises, non-traditionally built around 1957, including the roofs, windows, balconies and the external wall insulation (EWI) and found that costs were reasonably incurred.
  • The council had complied with the consultation requirements, along with the terms of the leases and all the statutory requirements.
  • The major work was found to be works of ‘repair’ as the condition of the roof coverings, windows, balconies and non-traditional concrete envelope of the buildings had deteriorated sufficiently to be ‘out of repair’ – the choice of remedial work being essentially a matter for the landlord.
  • The cladding was found to coincidentally involve an element of improvement, but this was not something that took the work beyond being a repair for the purposes of the terms of the leases.
  • On the standard of work, the tribunal was struck by the extremely exposed location of the site, essentially high-rise buildings on a hill overlooking the sea, with no protection at all from the sea winds – ‘A more challenging environment for maintenance can scarcely be imagined’.
  • Given this, the tribunal found that the condition of the balconies ‘was in many ways quite good’ and that the overall standard of painting in 2014 was reasonable.
  • The tribunal report says that minor problems are inevitable in such a large project – ‘the standard is one of reasonableness and not perfection’.
  • The windows inspected in the various blocks were essentially in reasonable condition and the tribunal was satisfied that the original window installation work was of a reasonable standard.
  • The tribunal ruled that no limitation should be made to the costs incurred by the council for the purposes of leaseholders service charges and that the service charge costs were payable in full.

Read the full tribunal decision notice published on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website.