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Section 20 Works

Within leasehold property, there is a strict process to adhere to surrounding major works projects. Below, we’ve shed light on the various steps and parameters involved.

The Landlord & Tenant Act 1985, which sets out the rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants, governs much of the processes in freehold / leasehold property today. The Act is made up of multiple sections and covers different topics, one of which is Section 20. Section 20 lays out the process landlords must follow when works are required to a property that will exceed the cost of £250 per leaseholder, including the right for the leaseholder to be consulted. The consultation process consists of three main parts, each with a respective notice to be served.

The first is the Notice of Intention, giving a description of the works involved and why they are required. This is followed by a 30 day period where the leaseholder can make observations. The notice provides details of whom these observations should be sent to. Once the observations have been collated, a second notice will follow, known as the Statement of Estimates. The statement shows all the estimates that have been tendered for the works, with the lowest tender being selected and allowing for another 30 day consultation period. This would normally signal the close of the consultation proceedings, however, should the lowest estimate not have been chosen, a final Notice of Award of Contract must be provided, stating the reason for selecting the successful contractor.

Section 20 legislation can be a tricky topic for leaseholders and landlords, therefore if you have any questions, please contact your Property Manager.

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Living in a Conservation Area

 

Brighton & Hove has a rich and varied local heritage, making it fairly common for sections of the city to be placed within a conservation area. These areas are considered to be of “special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance”, as stated in the Planning Act 1990. Rather like a listed building, a conservation area is assigned protection, but with the protection covering an area of the city rather than an individual building.

Each specified area, such as Brunswick Square in Hove or Kemptown in Brighton, will commonly hold a document referred to as a Character Statement, which provides the reason behind the conservation status. This document, bolstered by local history, gives a detailed overview of the conservation area, listing the individual streets that are included as well as information on significant structures found within them. This makes for fascinating reading both for local residents and budding Brighton & Hove historians, which is more than can be said for the regular council issued documents!

But how does being placed in a conservation area affect a property owner? And what is the simplest way to find out if you are indeed within one?

Brighton & Hove City Council have a handy directory that can be found at https://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/content/planning/heritage/conservation-areas-street-directory. Should you find that you live within a conservation area, your property may be subject to “Article 4 Directions”, restricting works that can be undertaken without planning permission to ensure that particular elements of architectural significance remain in place. These controls will mostly apply to the exterior of a property and should therefore not create too much of an issue for any leaseholders wanting to make internal alterations. Nevertheless, it’s always advisable to contact the local planning authority if you are unsure.

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What is a listed building?

A building is listed if it’s of special architectural or historic interest and considered to be of national importance.  Its level of protection is determined by a tiered classification system.

Whilst a small number of monuments where given protection under an Act in 1882, at that point in time, it was deemed unnecessary to restrict the occupier’s right to alter the building they owned.  However, the damage sustained from bombing in World War II caused a shift in thinking.  A force of 300 architects were dispatched around the country, tasked with compiling a list of historic properties that were worth rebuilding.  The work put in by these architects evolved into the three tiered system we have today, namely Grade II, Grade II* and the prestigious Grade I.  This final category is reserved for buildings of exceptional interest and makes up a mere 2.5% of all listed structures.

The city of Brighton & Hove is lucky enough to have 24 Grade I listed buildings, the most prominent of which is, of course, the Royal Pavilion.  Much of the remainder of the city is populated with listed Victorian terraces.

Anybody looking to make changes to their property would be well advised to check the status of their building on the Brighton & Hove listed property register.  Should you find that your property falls within this designation, council permission would be required for any alterations, with historic building techniques and materials needed to maintain the integrity of the property.

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To Reserve or Sink it? 

Have you received your service charge demand showing that you also contribute towards a reserve or sinking fund?  If so, have you ever wondered what the difference is and what these monies are used for?  Why have you been asked to pay them but fellow leaseholders in other buildings haven’t?

What are the main differences?

It’s not always easy to identify the differences between these two funds, mainly because lease terminology tends to be convoluted and ambiguous.  Sinking funds are generally used as a means of allowing the collection of additional funds for specific works that do not occur regularly, for example, a roof or lift replacement.  Reserve funds are funds that accrue over a period of time until they’re required to cover a large item of unforeseen expenditure or to cover a shortfall in the service charge income when compared to the budgeted amount for any service charge year.  In some instances, the lease will determine exactly how much can be collected for the reserve fund from each leaseholder in every given year.  However, this is uncommon and the amount is usually determined by the landlord or their appointed representatives.  Reserve funds can be used for a wide range of service charge costs, such as unexpected drainage works.

If you feel that paying into these funds only costs you more money, bear in mind the long term benefits.  These funds are there to protect you as a leaseholder, from suddenly having to pay large, unforeseen bills.

What should a managing agent do?

Under the guidance of a building surveyor, a managing agent will often prepare a cyclical 5 or 10 year maintenance plan that helps to determine what works are required and what monies need to be collected.  The plan identifies the level of works required, the timescales involved and an estimate as to the likely costs.

It’s important to note that not all leases allow for the collection of these funds.  But relying purely on your service charge may mean you won’t have a sufficient buffer to protect you from having to pay for unplanned but necessary works.  Leasehold law is complicated and many people struggle to understand that such a system can leave you unprepared and out of pocket.  When purchasing a property, it’s vital that you obtain the necessary information relating to the finances of the building and a full understanding of any planned or proposed works.

What can be done?

 Many in the industry are keen for reserve funds to become mandatory, alleviating the concerns of leaseholders in this way.  The Law Commission recently published their recommendations to transform home ownership for millions of people in England and Wales – it’s estimated that 4.3 million leasehold homes currently exist in England alone.  The report was written in tandem with proposals previously set out by the Government to reform leasehold law, tackling a number of issues that leaseholders face.  What is clear is that the Government are keen to avoid a situation whereby mandatory reserve fund requirements mean that leasehold properties become unaffordable for a portion of the market, such as first time buyers.

For the majority, service charge demands that have increased in recent months / years to incorporate a reserve or sinking fund have been put in place to bridge the gap between budgets, costs and essential works.  Discovering that you need to pay more as a result of these funds may initially seem unfair until you understand that they mitigate instances of high unexpected demands in the future.

What are the alternatives?

 Many leaseholders interpret an easy way out by asking to defer any non-essential but necessary maintenance works.  However, the long term effects of this are often increased costs due to an increase in the level of work required.  As managing agents, we endeavour to work with our landlords and leaseholders to ensure that adequate planning is in place.  As a sector, we must try to educate our clients on the importance of understanding their lease, their finances and the future maintenance requirements of their property.

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Bramber Brooks – How we created a new nature reserve (Episode 2)

After our company bought the land at Bramber Brooks in late 2016, the advice we received from every conservationist and ecologist we spoke to, was not to touch the land or make any changes for a whole year. It hadn’t been grazed or managed at all for at least thirty years and one more year would make little difference. They advised that time was needed to get to know the wildlife, the flora and fauna, the opportunities for conservation and to see how the land changed through the seasons.

However, we realised very quickly that urgent action was required to deal with one major problem.

During the first couple of weeks, we found the carcasses of a young deer, an adult badger and several rabbits which had been attacked and killed by dogs. There were also many skulls and bones lying around. On the western side of Bramber Brooks, approximately 20 acres are ringed by a wide drainage ditch which effectively makes it an island site. For years, it had been the perfect place for dog owners to release their big pets, to allow them to safely burn off energy by chasing the wildlife. This area of land was home to badgers, foxes, roe deer and many small mammals and was the perfect dog playground!

We set about having gates and fencing erected at the entrance points to the 20 acre site. We worked closely with Bramber Parish Council, set up a Facebook page and announced that this area was now designated as a ‘dog free’ nature reserve. Although there are no public footpaths across the nature reserve area, we allowed permissive access to visitors.. but not their dogs.

There was an immediate backlash from a number of local dog owners. Some openly admitted that they had been letting their dogs chase the wildlife for years and could not understand why we would now stop them. The small wooden sign we erected on the gate informing visitors that dogs were not welcome was vandalised. The comments on social media, for a week or so, were nasty and negative but were soon taken over by positive feedback from those visiting to see the wildlife.

We were staggered by the support we received from the local community. We started to realise that we were creating a ‘community asset’ and rather than being owners of the land, we were really just custodians for future generations. It was a very humbling realisation indeed.

Over the next few months, we had a proper management plan prepared by Dr Petra Billings, a local ecologist, and followed the recommendations. We also worked closely with the parish council and applied for grant funding from the Rampion Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund. Grant monies we received allowed us to have five timber bridges built over the wettest areas of the nature reserve. We decided on the right locations for paths for visitors and cut a route through the long grass and brambles to form a circular walk around the reserve. The grant monies also paid for benches to be built and placed in strategic spots, with views across to the ruins of Bramber Castle.

Part of the new nature reserve is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, containing some of the only undisturbed medieval salterns along the south coast. The nature reserve walk takes visitors over these protected salterns with the spoils of the Bramber salt trade of the 15th century under their feet.

We are currently working with Horsham District Council and Sussex Wildlife Trust to have the land designated as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR). It will be only the third LNR in the whole Horsham District, the only in private ownership and will ensure protection long into the future.

Our Facebook page now has almost 1,000 followers and we regularly post news on our wildlife.

Next year, the Environment Agency have agreed to build three large bird scrapes within the nature reserve. They obtained full planning permission early in 2020 and the work is to mitigate the losses of wildlife riverbank habitat as a result of the Shoreham flood defence work. The 1,000 cubic metres of soil they remove will be used to build up the paths for visitors, with wooden sides and stone chippings. Bird hides will be created and the biodiversity of our nature reserve will increase greatly.

Do follow the ‘Bramber Brooks’ Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/bramberbrooks – for all news on the nature reserve. Our Managing Director, Nick Mills, is very involved with the project (and cuts the grass on his tractor) and would be pleased to answer any questions or suggestions you may have to help our project – n.mills@riversonggroup.com

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Understanding the Government’s Green Homes Grant

Landlords could receive a grant worth up to £5,000 as part of a £2bn grant scheme announced earlier this year and due to open at the end of September. The Green Homes Grant will allow households in England to receive vouchers that can be spent on a variety of measures including wall insulation, lofts, low energy lighting and double glazing. The scheme is one that will benefit both tenants and landlords as it will improve housing standards and reduce the cost of day-to-day living, whilst cutting carbon emissions across the sector.

In anticipation of the launch, you can discover what improvements can be made to your property by obtaining a quotation from a qualified tradesperson. Available measures are split into “primary” and “secondary” – the voucher must be used to install at least one primary measure that can be an insulation and/or low carbon heating measure. It can then be used to help cover the costs of a secondary measure including draft proofing, double glazing, heating controls and hot water thermostats.

If you’d like to apply, you can use the Simple Energy Advice website to check what energy efficiency or low carbon improvements can be made to your home. The SEA website also provides details of accredited tradespeople able to undertake the work. You will need to obtain at least 3 quotations to ensure value for money before the vouchers can be approved, with the chosen installer requesting and receiving payment directly from the Government.

Austin Rees welcome the scheme as it could save households up to £600 per year on energy bills, not to mention helping to meet the UK’s 2050 target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

 Primary Insulation measures covered by the voucher:

  • solid wall
  • under floor
  • cavity wall
  • loft
  • flat roof
  • room in roof
  • insulating a park home

Primary Low Carbon Heat measures covered by the voucher:

  • air or ground source heat pump
  • solar thermal
  • biomass boilers

Secondary measures

  • draught proofing
  • double glazing (where replacing single glazed windows)
  • secondary glazing (in addition to single glazing)
  • external energy efficient doors
  • heating controls
  • hot water tank thermostats and insulation

It’s important to note that the amount received towards the cost of a secondary measure cannot exceed the cost of the primary measure.

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Bramber Brooks – The Purchase (Episode 1)

My wife and I bought our house in Bramber village in the early summer of 2016. We’d lived on the other side of Bramber for some years and I’d been a local parish councillor since 2014. I knew the area very well and much about the history of the village. We purchased the property knowing that there had been a string of unsuccessful planning applications to develop the land at the side and to the rear. However, we fell in love with the setting and our daughters could walk to the nearby school in Upper Beeding.

In the late summer of 2016, whilst on holiday with my family, an interesting new listing appeared on the Rightmove website…

“40 acres of former floodplain for sale to the north of Bramber village. 

Development potential and suitable for a variety of uses (subject to necessary consents)”

A friend sent a message to tell me about the listing. I knew the land well – it was to the rear of our new house, with the access being immediately adjacent to our driveway. The information included a map of the land, showing that it ran from the castle ruins in the west to the waterline of the River Adur to the east, the whole width of Bramber village.

The listing said nothing about the incredible history of the site, the rare medieval salterns or the moated area where medieval buildings would have stood. There was no mention of the badgers, foxes, roe deer or the rich variety of birds, flora and fauna which had been left undisturbed since the land was seasonally grazed almost thirty years before by the Wiston Estate. It was presented as an opportunity for speculative developers or those with particular uses for the land until future development ideas could be unlocked.

Almost immediately on my return, we were approached by several keen prospective buyers, each with their own designs and each wishing to sell us a small area of land behind our house to help fund their purchase of the whole site.

One prospective purchaser was a tall Irishman, who was keen to meet me. We spent a couple of hours walking around the land. He said that he was negotiating directly with the sellers and that a contract had been issued to his solicitors. He wanted to have year-round ‘glamping’ on the western side and a permanent ‘party field’ on the eastern side which would be available to hire for weddings and parties. The only vehicle access would be next to our house and a concrete road was to be built with new electricity and water services.

He had spoken to English Heritage about the large tents to be erected within the Scheduled Ancient Monument site and they had provided clarity on how deep he could drive tent pegs and whether concrete hard standing areas could be created. He had a large topper being delivered from his father’s farm in Ireland and was going to clear the whole land to see where the concrete road and services could be run.

He had also asked a sound consultant to visit the site to determine where music speakers would be best located to counter any noise complaints from neighbours!

He offered us a small area of land next to our house and was hoping to speak to other neighbours to offer them similar plots.

Another budding buyer was a company that also had plans to run a concrete road through the land with water and electricity services. They wanted to place shipping containers on the site, on concrete pads and plumbed into the new services. Each container would house residential tenants paying rent. To overcome planning restrictions, they would move the containers to other concrete pads every 28 days! Again, they offered us a small area of land to buy.

It was clear that fast action was required!

The current owner was a speculative Malaysian developer, living in London. I managed to make contact with him directly. He made it very clear that he was not willing to sell just part of Bramber Brooks and was looking to sell the whole area of land to a single party.

I continued to speak and negotiate with the prospective buyers for a small area of land, while my solicitor made haste to collect searches and legal paperwork. I negotiated a price with the current owners and very quickly the price escalated as we were played off against the other parties.

I spoke to Andrew, my business partner, and we agreed that it would be good for our company, Riversong Ltd, to acquire Bramber Brooks. We both have a passion for nature and share connections with the local area. Riversong had been supporting local charities for a number of years and the purchase of land for the protection of wildlife matched the ethos and aims of the company and our staff. The same day we agreed that Riversong should buy the land, our solicitor received a contract and we exchanged!

And so the journey began …

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Employer of the Year Finalist

Austin Rees are delighted to have been nominated as a Finalist for Employer of the Year at the recent ARMA (Association of Residential Managing Agents) awards.

ARMA recognised the investment that our company has made over the past 12 months in developing individual members of staff; our ultimate aim being to improve the service we provide to freeholders and leaseholders.

Our employee programme has included the recruiting of a new HR Manager, targeted professional training, teambuilding days, incentive schemes, new staff benefits and policies, as well as the launch of a wellbeing initiative. 

We believe that our future success depends on a workforce who are not only knowledgeable but healthy, motivated and well rewarded.

The awards ceremony was held on Friday 5th July in the stunning surroundings of Tobacco Dock in London.

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Austin Rees are proud sponsors of Snailspace Brighton in support of Martlets

snail

snailOn 15th September, 50 giant Snails will slither onto the streets of Brighton & Hove to create an 18km public art trail.  Local charity, Martlets, have teamed up with Wild in Art to deliver the free public event.  Austin Rees are excited to be part of the 9 week trail as joint sponsors of Disco the Snail, who will be located outside Churchill Square.

The Snailspace campaign follows on from the hugely successful Snowdogs by the Sea, which raised £310,000 for Martlets and contributed over £10m to the local economy.

Martlets cares for people living through a terminal illness in the Brighton & Hove area.  The charity is much more than a hospice – they provide counselling, therapies, bereavement support and a team of nurses who offer respite for home carers.

Speaking about the campaign, Imelda Glackin, Martlets CEO, said, “The Snail sculpture resonates wonderfully with the work we do.  Our life-changing hospice care helps people do the things they love with the time they have left.  In this fast-paced city, it’s often hard to remember to slow down and appreciate the things in life that make us smile”.  The strikingly painted Snails and the campaign mantra of #BeMoreSnail will be a reminder to us all to stop and take a moment.

Disco is jointly sponsored by Austin Rees and RT Williams Insurance Brokers Ltd.  The artist, Natalie Guy, likes to put a bit of sparkle in every piece of artwork that she creates and Disco is no exception.  Taking 230 hours to create and using over 50,000 mirror tiles, Disco is a veritable glitterball – with antennae!

Visit Disco outside Churchill Square and enter our competition to win 4 tickets to 40 Years of Disco at the Brighton Centre.

Terms and Conditions apply.