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East Leake: ‘Unfair’ estate charges on new-build homes developments ‘terrifying’ say residents

A group of residents living on newly built estates in Rushcliffe have spoken out against what they say is unfair billing by management companies running area maintenance instead of local councils.

The concerns relate to the practices of some private firms responsible for collecting their fees which are paid separately to council tax.

The bills for homeowners affected often relate to maintaining shared spaces on new estates including parks, roads, drainage and sewers because the company is taking this work on instead of a local council.

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But some freehold residents at estates in the Rushcliffe village of East Leake say it is unfair as they can also face charges for putting up sheds, building extensions, selling homes or getting new driveways.

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Rushcliffe Borough Council used to adopt all open space on new housing developments but in 2011 changed its position due to the “financial burden”.

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Several other councils in Nottinghamshire no longer adopt new open spaces on newly built estates.

Management companies and developers involved have responded by saying fees are communicated clearly with residents, who sign up to clear agreements when they buy homes.

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The Government is looking into the issue nationally, and one report on housebuilding addressed the issue by saying “As a result of the emergence of the private management model…households are facing financial and emotional detriment, and, if the status quo is maintained, this is likely to worsen over time”.

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Resident Emrys Green has lived on a Barratt Homes-built development for eight years in Lantern Fields, also in East Leake.

He pays £26 a month to the company Premier Estates as a management fee for the site, which includes maintenance and repairs on shared spaces.

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Other possible charges in his agreement include a £420 fee to sell your home and a £115 fee to change the deeds.

He said: “We have to pay if we sell the house, if we want to put up a shed, if we want to change anything about the externals of the property or if anything on the park gets broken.

“You can’t park a work van or caravan on site.

“We’re lucky to have not been stung but there’s always that looming threat of an uncapped fee.

“We bought and paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for our house and we feel like we’re treated as tenants.”

Another resident, Lynne Twigg, bought her home on the Meadowcroft estate in East Leake from developer Persimmon and pays a  £148 annual management fee to the firm Greenbelt.

One of the charges on her bill – all split across all the homes on the estate – was for a ‘quarterly play area inspection’ for £63 – and other charges include a ‘woodland inspection’ for £440 and play area repair for £485.

These costs are divided between all residents.

The firm also charges £195 plus VAT for an individual house sale which is payable once the sale is completed.

Ms Twigg said: “When we first bought the house we were told there would be a fee to keep the estate clean and tidy.

“Why should we pay to maintain public open spaces which the rest of the village use? If the park is damaged, if travellers arrive or if it is fly-tipped, we have to pay for it.

“It’s terrifying. Our main gripe is we have nowhere to go, freeholders haven’t got an ombudsman [a complaints adjudicator].

“This house is our legacy to our kids and it annoys me that someone has a financial hold over it.

“We could be charged thousands for something that goes wrong, it’s a real timebomb.”

She said a group of residents who have got together to campaign against the fees have had “no support” from the council.

Rushcliffe Borough Councillor Lesley Way (Ind), representing Leake, has been campaigning on the issue for five years and said: “We have seven different estates in East Leake under these rules under different management companies.

“The emotional impact is huge when you’ve got this hanging over your head, you don’t know what’s around the corner.

“For someone managing a tight budget, it’s a huge burden on people.

“It’s a growing problem and the change has got to come from higher up from the government.

“There are people who don’t want children playing on the play area if they don’t live here. It’s destroying our community cohesion.”

A Government spokesperson said it is “taking action to address the often unfair treatment of homeowners on freehold estates”.

They said: “Our Leasehold and Freehold reform Bill will make estate management companies more accountable for how their money is spent. This includes giving homeowners who pay estate charges the right to challenge these costs, and to go to a tribunal to appoint a manager if necessary.”

A spokesperson for Premier Estates said the firm takes a “fair and responsible approach” with charges and “encourages property owners to engage with our proactive team where either operational or financial queries exist”.

They said: “We manage the development in line with the terms of the legal agreement(s) on which homes were purchased. We do not set those terms or covenants, but are appointed as agents to ensure that they are upheld.”

A spokesperson for Greenbelt said all homeowners are made aware of the charges before buying a house on a new build development managed by the firm.

They said: “Greenbelt understands homeowners may have concerns regarding increases to the annual management charge. Where there are any unanticipated non-routine works required, Greenbelt will always contact homeowners to advise of these as soon as possible if they will incur an additional charge over a set threshold.

“In the event of a sale there will be both legal and practical requirements to be dealt with. These will usually involve the lawyers acting for homeowners contacting Greenbelt for information and documents.

“It is usual practice to charge fees in respect of supplying the necessary documents and information.”

They added the firm operates a Customer Dispute Ombudsman Scheme under the RICS Dispute Resolution Service, and added homeowners have the option to form their own homeowner company to maintain the site.

A spokesperson for Persimmon Homes said a contract is signed between the resident and management company, agreeing to the charges.

They said: “At our development in East Leake – where Greenbelt is the management company – they are responsible for the general upkeep of the public open space on the site. This includes mowing, hedge and tree works, litter control and any liability insurances.”

A spokesperson for Barratt Homes added that “all customers receive clear and transparent information” before they purchase the home.

They said: “That information also sets out any covenants on what residents can and can’t do during the construction of the site, these covenants aim to help maintain the integrity and longevity of the development for residents, neighbours and the wider community.”

A Rushcliffe Borough Council spokesperson said it is “committed to working with developers and management companies to encourage them to be transparent”.

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They said: “In this currently unregulated sector, the council expects the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill will enable homeowners the right to transparency over their estate charges and provide a mechanism to challenge the charges they pay, by taking a case to a tribunal, which will be a positive change for residents.”

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