There was something reassuring when films and TV depicted the good guys in white and the bad guys in dark colours. Seeing the Lone Ranger and Tonto rid the Wild West of the evil outlaws in their dark Stetsons and waistcoats you always knew the World was a good place. Well in our technicolour, multimedia age the ability to spot right from wrong is more challenging. Of course one bad experience and conspiracy theories abound about how everyone is out to be corrupt and rip people off. Generally an experience you have will be reinforced from conversation with others, replaying in your head or reaction to the issue. This is never truer than in leasehold management.
It may be a matter completely unrelated to where your ire is directed but an incident in one place escalates and magnifies everything. As an example if your common parts are redecorated and you don’t like them (after all decor can be incredibly subjective) you may find fault with the managers accounts, the communication from management, the response times, etc. Trying to keep perspective can be incredibly difficult and certainly if someone feels wronged it is incredibly personal. For a property manager to empathise or alter perception can be very difficult.
I have often said that it is important to educate leaseholders to ensure they know their rights and responsibilities they sign up to but more importantly to be able to know what to expect and receive in the management and running of the service charge.
I was a leaseholder before I went into residential management and I am still a leaseholder; living in leasehold and not as an absentee landlord. It has always been fascinating to be on the receiving end of management services. Of course I have a wide and deep knowledge of the sector but it is interesting to watch discussion amongst my fellow leaseholders on the perspectives and opinions levelled at the managing agents and ground rent owners. Two recent incidents.
Firstly I am sent a service charge demand with arrears from July 2016. I check and I had paid the whole invoice. Turns out it relates to a balancing charge from the previous year end accounts but not described as such. To get clarity and resolution took two months. I know this is pressure of time and someone trying to deal too quickly rather than thinking through the matter. It happens easily and often in any business. I am sure you will have had similar situations in your own work. But because it is so personal and your home or investment, and you have some control it is way more suspicious. Secondly, the ground rent owner wrongly allocated a payment made and claimed I hadn’t paid. Easily solved by identifying the payment and having it reallocated. But I had to go to the trouble of looking up and engaging.
In reality no major issues but I could extrapolate into rhetoric of the agents being incompetent and not caring. In reality it is just life and busy companies doing the best they can. As a lot of other businesses and companies are doing every day.
So I would urge everyone in the sector to make sure we try and recognise that not everything will be perfect and work together. We need to get perspective and make sure we recognise the ones who are trying to deliver service from those who really are not. Sometimes mistakes occur, we are all human after all.
Roger Southam, Non Exec Chair at The Leasehold Advisory Service