By guest writer Marc Scruby
I live in Hove, in a complex built by Hyde Housing in 2015, and sold as a mix of outright ownership and shared ownership. There are 71 apartments on the estate which were run by Hyde.
After living in our building for 7 years, enough was enough. We saw how Hyde Housing acted with impunity, and learned that despite paying the service charge, we were not the client of the services being paid for. We had almost no say over how our money was collected or spent. Fighting with them on anything was futile. Nothing was ever resolved.
Dissatisfied with the service we were getting, in November 2021, we successfully used the ‘Right to Manage’ legislation to get rid of Hyde as our management company. This meant we were able to appoint a local and ethical managing agent of our choice to run our building for us. The agent was directly answerable to residents.
Hyde continue to own the building, but are no longer allowed to collect any service charges from residents, nor carry out any works.
Right to Manage legislation was introduced in 2002 as a way to get rid of the freeholder, without having to buy the freehold. Here I explain how, in five months, we used this legislation to remove Hyde Housing’s right to run our building. All they are now allowed to do now is collect rent from us, nothing else!
Here I offer a ten-step guide for anyone else interested in following this path. I’m hoping our success story can give real hope to those trapped by Hyde Housing and other unscrupulous housing associations.
Ten Steps to Using ‘Right to Manage’ Legislation and Sending your Landlord Packing
1) Find a ‘Right to Manage’ expert
There are a lot of people advertising their services in helping residents use Right to Manage (RtM) legislation, but do your research. At first we engaged a solicitor, but communication was overly complicated and opaque. He wouldn’t answer questions clearly and wouldn’t elaborate until instructed by us signing a contract. We walked away.
After shopping around, we found a more suitable expert. The key criteria we used for selection were:
Plain speaking. Our expert was plain speaking and a breath of fresh air!
Not demanding large sums of money up front and payment in two huge instalments as most agents do. This is a real obstacle. Leaseholders, rightly would have trust issues handing over money to a single person. Also, there were no guaranteed outcomes for handing over money. Our expert negotiated a contract and payment plan, and the money was paid to the RtM expert’s certified accountant.
Agreement to work in staggered phases. This enabled us to have funding targets. Each time we hit a goal, more legal work was carried out, which helped limit financial risks. We were able to crowdfund the costs of RtM, with some paying monthly instalments, others paying in two halves. Payment plans could be tailored for different households.
2) Obtain your neighbours contact details
Start a tenants and residents association (TRA). Many housing associations will actually help you here! I suspect they have targets to meet around engaging residents, to get yet another fake award.
Set up an email account, e.g. ‘email@example.com’. Your landlord will actually send out a letter inviting all leaseholders to join. Help them draft what you want the letter to say. If you’re lucky like us, you can slip in a sentence that you want to use Right to Manage to remove your landlord and improve things such as lowering the service charge.
It is helpful to find a unifying issue that residents are annoyed about to bring everyone around the table. We used the £30k contract for testing emergency lighting as a lightning rod issue.
After changing managing agents, the emergency lighting contract was re-tendered with a more reputable contractor who charges £4k. This means we pay £26k less for the service. In other words, the costs we incurred through the RtM process were later recouped in savings.
3) Gain the trust of your neighbours
Obtaining the right to manage your building is a huge exercise in trust. People are well aware of scams and con artists, so you need to obtain legitimacy not just from the TRA but elsewhere too.
People are naturally suspicious, and a lot of their goodwill and trust in authority has been exhausted by dealing with their landlord. We gained legitimacy by writing to our excellent local MP He sent a letter to all residents, who were his constituents asking about the issues they’d like him to take up with Hyde at an executive level. In that letter, he mentioned that a group of residents were exploring their right to manage options.
4) Turn complaints into action
Many housing associations are very good at upsetting anyone and everyone. Use that awful reputation to your advantage and bond over your shared experiences. This is where you’ll gain support through an information campaign.
Use any and every means available to challenge the landlord’s lack of accountability, and the lack of leaseholder rights, but keep emphasising that there is a way out. Keep telling everyone that the solution is to start a Right to Manage Company.
Getting a handful of your most disgruntled residents to pay a contribution to the RtM fund means that you can get the company officially set up. This is the vehicle through which the building will be run without your housing association landlord. Other leaseholders then pay to become members, building the company.
5) Exploit your landlord’s failures
Once your RtM Company is set up by your RtM expert, the next step is to get a simple majority of the leaseholders in the building to pay to become members. The RtM company ‘waits in the wings’ for a while, and every time the landlord fails to make repairs or address a service charge error, for example, use these failings to recruit more neighbours to the company.
This means you need regular communication systems with your neighbours to update everyone on the progress being made. This helps maintain momentum. Collect email addresses, start a WhatsApp, and put leaflets through doors. It’s best to combine different methods so that everyone is included.
In our case, we decided to improve the grounds and gardens around our building, ignoring Hyde who told us to stop. This showed residents that there was a visible group of neighbours who cared and were prepared to volunteer. When Hyde threatened to rip up flowers and plants, they just looked like even worse bullies, and drove more residents towards using RtM. It was a win-win situation.
6) Find a good, local and honest managing agent to take over once the process is complete
Have a managing agent ready to run the building on behalf of the RtM company, so that when the legal process is complete, residents know who will run the building and why it will be better.
Explain to leaseholders that the managing agents appointed after RtM have to do what the RtM company want, and will be hired or fired based on their performance. No more nasty service charge surprises at the end of the year!
7) Use the land registry
If, like in our building, you have absent landlords, their home addresses will be on the land registry. It costs £3 per apartment, but we included this research in the contract with our RtM expert.
Write to the home address for the absent landlords. Try to explain what is going on in the building and how their investment or vacated home is at risk because the housing association is managing the building poorly. You can also damage the landlord’s reputation by reviewing them on Trust Pilot or similar sites. This will alert potential buyers to the reality of living in one of their homes.
8) Tackle misinformation
Some neighbours will be so suspicious that they won’t ask questions about the process directly but will spread concerns or rumours, worrying potential company members and putting them off getting involved.
If this happens, it can be helpful to arrange a residents’ meeting. A decent RtM expert will attend the meeting with you and put the right information out there, clearing up any doubts and isolating the ’naysayers’.
9) Corner your landlord’s executives
Having a good local MP helps, but all MPs should be responsive to requests from a large group of residents (their potential voters!). Get them to insist that your landlord’s executive attends a public meeting with residents.
If the landlord ignores you or doesn’t cooperate, ask the MP to use the nuclear option by asking a question or making a statement about the housing association in Parliament.
A tussle with the landlord over getting a meeting arranged can itself be used to sell the Right to Manage solution.
10) Give your landlord notice
When you have just over half of the leaseholders in the building signed up to your RtM company, and your RtM expert’s accountant has all the funds collected, your RtM expert will send all the paperwork, giving the landlord notice that you are exercising your right to manage the building.
In our experience, Hyde didn’t really seem to know what RtM legislation was. They didn’t challenge our application and did not charge any legal fees on their behalf to check the RtM procedure was done correctly.
At this point, there’s no going back. The landlord is only able to run the building and collect service charge for three more months. This is the transition period whereby your appointed managing agent gets ready for the take over date.
Right to Manage is not a right that everyone has. It doesn’t extend to those who rent fully for example, although it should. But I hope these steps are useful to those who are thinking of working through this process.
For help with information, guidance and templates that you can use for a wide range of different situations, please see SHAC’s Resources page.
The most important thing we can do however is to combine our efforts and work together. Please join us at any relevant events listed here.
18 October 2022
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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