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Building Trustee Amendments

Amendments : 82C, 82D, 82E, 82F, 82G, 82H, 82I, 82J, 82K, 82L, 82M

The building trustee would be appointed for higher-risk buildings and large mixed-use developments. He or she would be an impartial figure whose role would be to ensure that the interests, rights, responsibilities of the landlord (if any) and leaseholders are balanced and, more importantly, that the building is properly maintained and the service charge provides value for money. In this way, the concerns raised in relation to leaseholder management of larger mixed use estates can be mitigated.

In the event of insolvency of the landlord, the building trustee would step in to ensure the ongoing management of the building. Provision is made in the relevant amendment to prevent the termination of service contracts or insurance policies if a landlord becomes insolvent.


My Lords, I move Amendment 82C and will speak to Amendments 82D to 82M standing in my name. These draw on good practice in the management of multiunit developments in Australia, Europe and North America and seek to replicate best practice here. They are also designed to address some of the concerns raised in earlier debates, particularly in the context of the proposed change to the threshold for enfranchisement in mixed-use developments from 25% to 50%. I suggest that similar amendments to a future commonhold Bill would go some way to meeting concerns that have been expressed about the risks associated with a wholesale move to that tenure.

The amendments provide for the appointment of a building trustee. It is proposed that this should apply in the largest and most complex developments. Building trustees might also be appointed at the request of a recognised tenants association or by the courts. The building trustee will be an independent and impartial figure whose primary role of auditing performance would ensure that interest rights, responsibilities and performance of the landlord were properly balanced with those of leaseholders and, more importantly, that the building is properly maintained and the service charge provides value for money. I noted in our earlier discussions the Minister’s comments to me about value for money, but it is the benchmark used by the National Audit Office for local authority finance, I believe—I eyeball noble Lords who have experience in that line of business.

Amendment 82C sets out the buildings this would apply to, and Amendment 82D outlines the trustee duties—I will rattle through the amendments at some speed. Amendment 82E is about the appointment process of the building trustee. Amendment 82F sets out the trustee entitlement to documents and information.

There is, of course, the question of who pays for the building trustee. It would be unreasonable—particularly during a cost of living crisis—to burden leaseholders, especially as many of the buildings covered by Amendment 82C are already facing increased service charges owing to the new safety requirements under the Building Safety Act. Instead, Amendment 82G provides that the costs of building trustees would be covered by a levy on providers of commercial and residential mortgages and block landlords, excluding enfranchised building and tenant right-to-manage companies.

Amendment 82H sets out what would be the baseline value-for-money benchmark. This is necessary because there is a risk of inevitable bias in the management under the auspices of a party to the leasehold arrangements. This might be perfectly reasonable in terms of the person instructing the management, but still fall well short of the optimal.

One of the Bill’s key aims is to make it cheaper and easier for leaseholders to enfranchise. I welcome that. My amendments are designed to augment these plans by providing a light-touch oversight to ensure effective, efficient and economic management of a building. This backstop would require reassurance to lenders, leaseholders and other stakeholders that a freeholder-managed or resident-managed building will be properly looked after.

The reassurance offered by the building trustee is needed, as there is strong evidence that, monetising policies by a few freeholders apart, leaseholders themselves are often reluctant, unable or lack the skills to take on the responsibility and liabilities for the management of increasingly complex buildings, or to direct the professional managers adequately. Indeed, some complaints reaching my mailbox are about residents’ own management companies, and the Government’s own research found that leaseholders were concerned about issues of working with neighbours, lack of time and reluctance to take on additional responsibilities beyond those necessary as a home owner.

That touches on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, in a previous group, because although most leaseholders will appoint a managing agent to undertake the day-to-day running of a building, they themselves remain responsible for key decisions and setting priorities, such as service charge levels, authorising maintenance schedules and dealing with arrears. It can be difficult to get collective agreement on these issues, with resultant detriment to the management of the building fabric. According to data from the Scottish House Condition Survey, half of all housing is in what it describes as “critical disrepair”, and almost half demands “urgent attention”. The situation is most acute in tenements, so I appreciate that this probably relates to older buildings, but paying for common repairs or maintenance was the most frequent cause of disputes in these buildings.

By taking a whole-life view of the building, the building trustee can seek to avoid that Scottish experience by providing an independent assessment of maintenance needs and condition, and ensuring sufficient provision is put aside to maintain the building properly. Amendments 82I and 82J would require landlords to provide a 10-year plan of anticipated expenditure on capital works and building maintenance, and to establish a sinking fund to avoid leaseholders facing large, unanticipated bills. The plan and the fund would be subject to an independent audit and assessment by the building trustee to ensure that necessary works, and only necessary works, were planned for and adequately funded.

In an open letter to lenders on taking commonhold as a security, dated 21 July 2020, the Law Commission recognised that:

“the value of a lender’s security is inherently linked to the management and maintenance of the building in which a flat is located. A failure to keep the building in repair, to insure it properly, or to keep sound finances all have significant potential to jeopardise the value of a lender’s security”.

The same is, of course, true for leasehold buildings. That is why I believe that professional landlords and lenders should cover the cost. It is the banks and the building societies whose capital is at risk. The building trustee should provide a cost-effective way of reassuring them that the flats they have lent on are being properly managed, and of maintaining the value of the security. The same is true of commercial lenders on mixed-use developments. I envisage that the Secretary of State would outsource the appointing of building trustees to an external body, as provided for in Amendment 82E.

Two significant further powers would be conferred on the building trustee through Amendments 82H and 82K. Amendment 82H would allow the building trustee to apply to the tribunal on behalf of leaseholders to seek refunds of expenditure that does not provide value for money. Amendment 82K would allow the building trustee to adjudicate in disputes between landlord and leaseholder, and between leaseholders. One of the main areas where I see this provision being used is service charge arrears. It is particularly important in leaseholder-managed blocks that do not have the wider financial resources of the major landlord groups that service charges are paid promptly. Failure to do so prevents a building being managed properly, and in extreme cases places all residents at unnecessary risk. If essential safety works could not be undertaken or building insurance obtained, that would create real problems.

Evidence from other parts of the world suggests that condominium statutes do not have sharp enough teeth to recoup outstanding contributions efficiently and effectively. In England and Wales, we currently fall between two extremes. I have sympathy with those noble Lords who argued in a previous debate that forfeiture, with the exorbitant windfall that it can offer landlords, is inherently unreasonable. Equally, I recognise the point the Minister made in previous discussions that civil debt recovery proceedings can be lengthy. The building trustee’s power to adjudicate offers a faster and less formal route of dispute resolution than the court, and supports the building’s cash flow.

Amendment 82L would provide for the building trustee to take over the management of a building if its landlord becomes insolvent. Historically, this has happened to very few landlords. However, the Committee will recall that I have previously raised concerns that not all landlord groups have the funds needed to meet the building safety remediation liabilities and could therefore become insolvent. The financial position of these groups may get significantly worse, depending on the Government’s decision on ground rents. Some of the country’s largest landlord groups—I refer to E&J Estates, which is landlord to around 40,000 homes, Long Harbour, which is landlord to around 193,000 homes, and Regis Group, which is landlord to around 30,000 homes—have significant borrowings that are due to be repaid from ground rent income over the next 40 to 60 years.

To the best of my knowledge, the Government’s final position is still unknown but, based on press comments on the Secretary of State’s own preference, it is reasonable to assume that the finances of landlord groups dependent on ground rent income to repay their borrowings will come under further, if not fatal, stress. This is not just my view; it is also that of the Government, whose own impact assessment states that

“there may be potential insolvencies/forfeiture and associated costs where the freeholder defaults on contractual obligations as a result of the cap”.

However, it does not seem that there has been further assessment of just exactly what this would mean in practice.

The collapse of a major landlord group would be without precedent and could cause tens of thousands of leaseholders in hundreds of buildings to be in serious trouble. In blocks subject to intermediate leases, it is likely that contracts covering everyday management and maintenance would be at risk because there would be no landlord to provide instructions. Conveyancing and lending transactions, which are already under stress, would be paused as there would be no one to process essential documents such as notices, deeds of covenant, landlord certificates and leaseholder deeds of certificate. The ability of the building trustee to assume the management of a building in such circumstances, and prevention of possible management contract termination, is an essential backstop that prevents leaseholders being left in limbo for months while they try to set up an alternative arrangement for managing their buildings and/or await the outcome of the administration or liquidation.

Finally, Amendment 82M would simply ensure that the building trustee has relevant qualifications for the task.

I hope your Lordships will see the merit in these arrangements, and that the Minister will be able to agree that measures such as this are a necessary complement to the Bill’s intentions. While I commend these amendments to the Committee, I simply say that I am not set on this particular structure, but the principle needs further examination to provide the point that I have constantly been on about—namely, consumer protection. On that basis, I beg to move.

Service Charge Amendments

Amendments: 78C, 78D, 78E, 78F, 78G, 78H, 80A, 80B

This group of amendments are wholly in line with existing provisions in the Bill to increase the transparency of costs passed on to leaseholders and to protect them from exploitative behaviour by landlords.

In this group there are amendments to:

  • define when a landlord incurs costs to prevent manipulation of the 18 month rule under which costs incurred before then cannot be charged unless leaseholders have been given notice;
  • a new tighter test of “value for money” to replace current test of “reasonably incurred” in relation to service charge costs;
  • go further than the Government on the automatic provision of information to leaseholders;
  • prevent landlords from placing contracts with related parties or connected persons;
  • limit the duration of contracts that a landlord may enter into;
  • provide a definition of “cosmetic works” that may be undertaken without the consent of a landlord, and
  • measures to prevent the assignment or payment of insurance payouts by landlords to third parties, such as their lenders or bondholders.

These amendments are consistent with the overarching aims of consumer protection in leasehold matters and which would be applicable whatever form of legal construct emerges as between block control and management and unit ownership and occupation.


My Lords, I do not think I am actually the next in line to speak on this, but I have Amendments 78C to 78G and 80A and 80B standing in my name. The intentions behind the Bill in relation to greater transparency and fairness are welcome, but, in my view, they do not go far or fast enough to deal with the current crop of egregious monetising schemes, where there seems to be no end to the inventiveness of the worst offenders.

My amendments go further than the Government’s proposals, for this reason. Some of what is in the Bill will take time to work through and, during that time, the same old abuses—or variants of them—will continue. I want the worst ones to stop immediately the Bill receives Royal Assent. It is part of an essential consumer protection package.

Amendments 78C to 78G, which I will deal with first, seek to close loopholes in the current law, require landlords to achieve value for money in the management of their buildings, promote competition in the property management sector and clamp down on the charging of unnecessary ancillary fees. Amendment 78C clarifies that the costs are to be treated as incurred as soon as there is an unconditional obligation to pay them, even if the whole or part of the cost is not required to be paid until a later date.

The moment when costs are incurred is particularly important in relation to Section 20B of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. That section prevented tenants being charged costs incurred more than 18 months before a demand for payment was made, unless they were informed that costs had been incurred and therefore would be payable.

Surprising as it may seem to your Lordships, there are conflicting decisions as to when costs are incurred for the purposes of Section 20B. In Jean-Paul v Southwark London Borough Council in 2011 in the UK Upper Tribunal, Lands Chamber, reference 178, it was held that costs are incurred only when payment is made; but, in OM Property Management Ltd v Burr in 2012, in the UK Upper Tribunal, Lands Chamber, reference 2, it was held that costs are incurred on the presentation of an invoice or on payment. Both leave it open to landlords to ask a supplier to delay the presentation of an invoice, or themselves to delay payment, to postpone the commencement of the 18-month time limit. I do not see this amendment as controversial, as it prevents abuse of the system and brings landlord and tenant law into line with accepted accounting practice.

Amendment 78D covers a situation under Section 19(1)(a) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, where service charge costs are payable

“only to the extent that they are reasonably incurred”.

This amendment replaces the “reasonably incurred” test in relation to service charges with a stricter one of providing “value for money”.

It is established case law that, if a landlord has chosen a course of action that has led to a reasonable outcome, the costs of pursuing that course of action are reasonably incurred even if there was another cheaper outcome that was also reasonable. This wide margin of appreciation leaves leaseholders at risk of overcharging. A value for money test would require landlords to interrogate all options before spending leaseholders’ money. It is not an unreasonable test; it is one that most people use in daily life when considering any significant purchase.

Amendment 78E requires landlords to provide tenants with a range of information, and to update it regularly. It goes further than the Government’s Clause 55, under which landlords are required to provide information only on request. If leaseholders are to be encouraged to take greater interest in the management of their buildings, I do not think we should place obstacles in their way. It should not be difficult for a landlord of a well-manged building automatically to provide and keep up to date a data room of information.

Amendments 78F and 78G continue the consumer protection theme of these amendments by promoting competition in the property-management sector. Amendment 78F prevents landlords contracting with related parties or connected purposes, thus removing an obvious conflict of interest. The danger for leaseholders if a landlord company places contracts with its subsidiary is well illustrated by the Charter Quay case, in which the managing agent, which happened to be owned by the landlord company, was roundly criticised by the tribunal for placing onerous service contracts with other subsidiaries.

In the same vein, to promote competition through regular retendering, Amendment 78G places a maximum contract duration of five years. Although under current law landlords must consult leaseholders before entering into a qualifying long-term agreement—that is, a contract of more than 12 months—there is no limit on its duration. In practice, even limited consultation requirements are relatively easily avoided. Contracts between a holding company and one or more of its subsidiaries, or two or more subsidiaries of the same company, are not qualifying long-term agreements; neither are contracts for a year or less, even if they have been regularly renewed.

Amendment 78H seeks to reduce costs on leaseholders by setting out in statute details of cosmetic works that can be undertaken without approval from a landlord. Most leases contain very tightly drawn provisions in this respect, which are against undertaking virtually any type of work, no matter how insignificant, without the landlord’s consent. Provisions such as a prohibition of the

“cutting, maiming or injuring, or suffering to be cut, maimed or injured, any roof, wall or ceiling”,

are very common. The fees for consenting to some minor works often run into hundreds of pounds, so this amendment attempts to find a way to streamline that.

One may debate at length the areas where a more relaxed regime might impair the amenity of other residents, but I seek to establish the principle of getting away from the monetisation of consent for every mortal thing—from pets to paint colour, and light fittings to lino floors—and putting it in the past. There ought to be greater freedoms for leaseholders but, in noting that the Law Commission report implied that consent for floor coverings should be relaxed, I would only observe from experience that engineered timber floor finishes in particular are often a potent source of noise transmission affecting other residents—so the matter is nuanced. At this stage, I simply wish to sound out the Government’s willingness to draw up, say, a code of practice, or otherwise take steps to free up this area.

I now turn to Amendments 80A and 80B, which are really rather different. I would have had them disaggregated had I been a bit more alert on Friday afternoon, because they relate to insurance moneys. Amendment 80A requires landlords to pay the proceeds of a building insurance policy into a separate fund that is held on trust for leaseholders. It also requires landlords, on receipt of insurance proceeds, to begin immediately to repair or rebuild a building, as far as reasonably practicable.

Service charge funds already have to be held on trust for leaseholders and I contend that building insurance payouts should be treated in the same way. As noble Lords are aware, I have raised my concerns about the risk of landlord insolvency. It has been suggested to me that, if a landlord became insolvent, any insurance proceeds held by the landlord on entering insolvency would form part of the company’s insolvent estate, leaving leaseholders in a damaged or destroyed building as unsecured creditors. Holding insurance proceeds on trust would go some way to protect them from risks relating to landlord borrowings—of which more in relation to Amendment 80B.

Most leases require landlords to reinstate damaged buildings—as, I think, does statute in the case of damage caused by fire. Subsection (3) of the proposed new clause in Amendment 80B places that duty beyond doubt. It requires landlords to move quickly to repair or rebuild the damaged or destroyed building. It goes some way to closing a loophole commonly found in leases that gives landlords the right to terminate where it is not possible to reinstate a building within a certain period. That is often three years, which is likely to be insufficient time to effect reinstatement of a larger or complex building.

Amendment 80B closes what I consider to be another loophole for insurance. Most leases require that the landlord insures the building, with the cost charged to leaseholders. However, what concerns me is the ability of landlords to assign the proceeds of insurance policies as security for their borrowings.

For instance, leaseholders in properties owned by subsidiaries of the three Long Harbour fund holding companies—a landlord to over 103,000 homes—are likely to be concerned that their subsidiaries have assigned the

“rights in each Insurance Policy, including all claims, the proceeds of all claims and all returns of premium in connection with each Insurance Policy”

to the Irish holding companies as part of an intercompany loan agreement. They will be even more concerned to learn that, according to the same standard insurance contract:

“All monies received or receivable by a Borrower under any insurance policy maintained by it (including all monies received or receivable by it under any Insurance Policy) at any time (whether or not the security constituted by this deed has become enforceable) shall at the option of the holding company

be applied in making good or recouping expenditure in respect of the loss or damage for which those monies are received or”—

this is significant—

“towards … discharge or reduction of the Secured Liabilities”.

Similar assignment provisions can be found for companies with loans from Rothesay Life. When leaseholders challenged those provisions, the excuse was that they formed part of a standard form of finance agreement. Lenders apparently insist on the provision so that they can have control of the funds and stop the landlord taking the insurance proceeds and walking away. In this case, somebody else walks away with the money, but the leaseholder still does not get the benefit of that being paid to their building. Some insurance policies note a lender as the priority payee so that it will receive the insurance proceeds instead of the insured party—you could not invent this stuff.

It seems to me that such provisions conflict with the terms of most leases that require a landlord to reinstate a building. Lest leaseholders in a damaged building are forced to fight a holding company or lender, possibly overseas, for the funds needed to repair, this clearly needs addressing. Even if the funds were made available to leaseholders, the holding company or lender could withhold that element of the proceeds relating to its subsidiary’s or borrower’s interest in the building, leaving leaseholders with a shortfall. I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me that this situation cannot be allowed to persist.

Some of the costs that have arisen are as a result of Fire Safety Act and Building Safety Act provisions set up by the Government. Some time ago, I asked the people I work with to set up an online resource, which I commend to noble Lords. It is I hope that it will help a number of people to unpick what is a very complex situation.

Excluded by the Building Safety Act

[House of Lords, July 2023] Amanda, an enfranchised leaseholder reveals the difficulties facing leaseholders who have bought their freehold with regards to the Building Safety Act and appeals to the government to act to protect all leaseholders with the Earl of Lytton’s Building Safety Remediation Scheme.