By guest writers Matt and Kate
On Sunday 1st May, residents of Capworth Court in Leyton began a service charge strike against our landlord, L&Q, over eleven unmet demands.
Overall, our protest is about L&Q’s inability to demonstrate a commitment to its overall mission. It is failing on its promises to tenants and residents, and has repeatedly refused to communicate properly.
Service Charge Errors
Capworth Court was built in 2014 and is made up of three adjoined blocks: Clematis, Fortius, and Hosta houses. Residents are expected to pay monthly service charges to keep the building safe and well-maintained. But over the last eight years, there have been a number of repairs and safety problems, and errors and inconsistencies in the way services are charged to residents.
In 2017, L&Q tried to charge residents twice in the same year for communal electricity. The attempt was spotted and queried by residents. But a clear resolution for this remains outstanding.
L&Q has also been charging residents for a system of safety lines designed to keep people safe whilst working at height doing repairs or cleaning windows. The system has consistently failed safety inspections and, as such, cannot be used. Consequently, cleaning and other works cannot be undertaken as safe working conditions cannot be guaranteed. It took residents complaining about this to ensure we were not charged for this as a service charge item, but no refunds for previous charges relating to this have been given.
Costs have incorrectly been attributed to Fortius residents only for pump room maintenance between 2014 and 2019. Refunds for this are also outstanding.
There have also been regular call out charges for lift maintenance and fire safety works despite these works not being undertaken to an adequate standard, so that the same repair has to be done repeatedly with consequent charges to residents.
Beyond this, residents have consistently raised concerns about build quality with, for instance, over 100 plumbing issues being identified and raised with L&Q. Similarly, leaks originating from poor weatherproofing have been identified, but on each occasion, the remediation works have been slow, and the management of the remediation process by the aftersales team has been poor.
In just one plot, one roof leak took nine months to fix, causing damage throughout that time. Another leak was noticed in July 2021 caused by poor initial installation of weatherproofing. We are still waiting for it to be repaired and made good. All of this is set against the backdrop of fire safety remediation work which needs to be undertaken, partly because L&Q were not compliant with fire safety regulations which existed at the time of the build.
Lack of Transparency
We do not believe that L&Q has processed service charges with logic, transparency, and honesty. When residents query charges, too many receive no response. Residents in Clematis House recently took L&Q to tribunal over service charge costs and the settlement included a commitment from L&Q to finalise long outstanding service charge statements by a set date. The information L&Q provided to the court missed the deadline and lacked clarity on the amounts owed by residents. When questioned, L&Q were still unable to give a coherent answer.
Similarly, when queries about the calculation of service charges are raised more generally, residents are given illogical and inconsistent reasoning – or no rationale at all. L&Q won’t openly engage with resident concerns or communicate clearly. We have sought, for instance, to query why an expensive contract for landscaping and gardening is not being fulfilled despite being paid for. L&Q have yet to answer.
Our nine demands, if met, will address the failings we have set out. But we are also asking for service charge arrears forgiveness and refunds where relevant. We want an external audit of L&Q’s processes relating to service charges to end overcharging.
Repairs must be fixed so that they don’t repeatedly recur. We also believe service charges and rents should be written off while fire safety remediation works are undertaken, and there should be no rent increases while properties cannot be sold because of the fire safety problems.
No Other Choice
After years of battling through L&Q’s torturous and ineffective complaints system, and even going through the First Tier Tribunal, we have reached the point where we have no alternative but to withhold payment until our demands are met.
We will not pay further service charges until L&Q addresses the lack of clarity of communication, spurious positions taken in relation to the calculation of service charges, general lack of engagement with concerns about build quality, failure to remediate latent defects and apportion costs correctly, poor communications, lack of clear timescales for action, and fire safety failings.
We want to be clear on one final point too. Our payments are being cancelled, and not just deferred. The money withheld as part of this strike will never be paid to L&Q, otherwise L&Q will never be motivated to change its behaviour. The sooner the remaining demands are met, the more beneficial the resolution for all parties will be.
SHAC@L&Q meets regularly to discuss issues with the landlord and develop campaigns to address them. All meetings are advertised on the Events page. To join the group and receive an invitation, please register with SHAC here.
1 May 2022
If you have a WordPress account, you can keep up to date with our blogs by subscribing to our site below:
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC).