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Majority Of People Think Neighbours Would Row Over New Buildings Rules

There are concerns that commonhold tenures can lead to disputes between neighbours in large blocks of flats (Alamy)

5 min read

Only one in four people believe residents in large apartment blocks would be able to agree with each other on building management and maintenance issues, according to a new poll which casts doubt over government housing reforms.

Since commonhold tenures were introduced in 2002, they have failed to to take off across England and Wales despite government efforts. In 2020, the Law Commission published a series of reports on leasehold reform and was tasked with considering how to “reinvigorate commonhold to provide greater choice for the consumer”. 

Commonhold is an alternative to leasehold ownership of flats and properties that share communal areas. It allows residents to own their property as a freehold indefinitely, and can decide on the management of their building and shared spaces with other residents.

However, polling by JL Partners, commissioned by the Residential Freehold Association (RFA), shows the majority of people do not have confidence that leaseholders would be able to make decisions on building management effectively with neighbours, with only one in four saying they believe residents would be able to agree.

According to the RFA, which represents the UK's largest professional freeholders, the poll suggests that government reforms to the leasehold system could prove contentious.

Commonhold Now, a campaign group campaigning to scrap leasehold on homes, have strongly rebutted the findings of the poll, arguing that the data clashed with other polls on the topic. They said that the RFA survey assumed the management of buildings would take over the lives of leaseholders in a commonhold, when in reality, a professional managing agent would often be appointed to do this work.

21 bills were included in the King’s Speech on Tuesday, which are set to be introduced in this parliamentary session before the next general election, expected in 2024. 

The Leasehold and Freehold Bill is one of the new pieces of legislation, which will include measures to make it easier and cheaper for existing leaseholders in houses and flats to either buy their freehold or extend their lease, and will increase the standard term of a lease from 90 years to 990 years. The bill also plans to ban the creation of new leasehold houses so that every new house in England and Wales would automatically be a freehold.

With government reform pushing towards reducing the role of institutional freeholders, it may lead to more residents in flats having commonhold tenures, where they would have to agree on everything from management and maintenance to costs.

Research by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) earlier this year found that some residents thought they would find commonhold ownership more stressful and saw less responsibility for communal areas as a benefit of leaseholds. There were also concerns that commonholds could lead to disputes between neighbours, particularly in large buildings.

Mick Platt, Director of the RFA, told PoliticsHome that the new JL Partners poll acted as evidence that most residents would have “no desire” for government-proposed reforms.

“We have consistently argued that commonhold is not a viable alternative to the entirety of the leasehold system, and this poll is the latest piece of evidence exposing the impractical realities of the Government’s agenda,” he said.

“Most residents, who understandably have less expertise, experience and time to manage complex buildings than professional freeholders, clearly have no desire to carry out the reality of the policy proposals the Government are pursuing.”

Platt urged the government to “reconsider their position” on leasehold reform, citing other DLUHC research that showed the public felt largely content or neutral about the leasehold system.

However, multiple MPs have told PoliticsHome they believe there should be radical reforms made to the leasehold system, as many tenants who have purchased leasehold properties face expensive service charges to maintain their homes and apartment blocks, and in some cases have had to hand over thousands of pounds to extend their lease. 

Research from Opinium, commissioned by Commonhold Now, recently found 60 per cent of Conservative 2019 voters supported overhauling the current system and a majority of Tory voters in ‘Blue Wall’ constituencies were in favour of replacing leasehold with commonhold. 

In response to the the RFA-commissioned poll, Commonhold Now accused it of being "misleading" and presenting only a "highly partial and selective" picture of public attitudes to leaseholds. 

Harry Scoffin, co-founder of Commonhold Now, told PoliticsHome that other polling showed the majority of leaseholders would want to buy their freeholds and said that the RFA were lobbying against a "fairer system of flat-living".

“Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas so it is no wonder that the Residential Freehold Association, who lobby to keep the abusive leasehold system in place with freeloading freeholders controlling homeowners’ buildings and chequebooks, are saying that residents will fall out like rats in a sack under a fairer system of flat living that does away with faceless, money-grabbing land barons," Scoffin said.

“One thing that the RFA haven’t told you is polling their members did with Savanta showed that 67 per cent of leaseholders want to buy their freeholds. Even when these leaseholders were warned that it could put them at risk of imprisonment if the building had major fire safety or structural problems, 51 per cent of them still wanted to be free of the hold of a freeholder and to own the freehold and be in control of their homes and, ultimately, lives.”

The Labour Party has also vowed to abolish the leasehold system with its first King's Speech if it wins the next general election, with former Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy telling Sky News earlier this year that it was a “feudal and archaic system”.

DLUHC was approached for comment.

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