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Leasehold Life is very pleased to publish the personal story of Bob Smytherman, Chairman of the Federation of Private Residents’ Associations who has been campaigning tirelessly for the rights of leaseholders for over twenty years.

“Within a few months of moving into my flat, I received a large unexpected bill for the replacement of the flat roof of our block. This was despite receiving assurance during the purchasing process that all the roofs were repaired two years earlier following damage caused by the Hurricane of 1987 that swept through the South of England.”

“I decided to go along to the next AGM to seek further explanation and to try to understand the workings of the management company which at that time employed an external managing agent”.

“Despite being 46 leaseholders in our block the attendance was poor with around half a dozen flats represented which I later learned were the ‘usual suspects’ and the Directors”.”

The managing agent came up to me before the start of the meeting (despite being in the back row) and asked if I would be interested in joining the committee. This surprised me somewhat as being in my early twenties, I was younger than the current Directors who were well into retirement”.

“I tentatively agreed as I was curious about the workings of the Company and felt I could make a difference”.

“Well, three years later after probing into the accounts and systems of the Company I was elected to the position of Vice- Chairman after the announcement that the long serving elderly Chairman was moving to be closer to his family. The new Chairman, soon realised the work was too much for him given his advancing years and therefore I soon became Chairman”.

“One of my first actions was to challenge the Buildings Insurance policy that was arranged through the Freeholders/Ground Landlords, and where I first learned about ‘tripartite’ leases. I was especially concerned that the policy we were forced to take out not only involved the Freeholder receiving an unspecified commission but also that we had to find the first £200 excess on every claim which effectively prevented us from most small claims such as broken windows and locksmiths charges etc”.

“I wrote to the Freeholder advising him of our concern to which he politely stated that this was a standard arrangement with all his investment freeholds and was unwilling to change as it was clearly in the lease”.

“Not being one to just accept this at face value, I sought further quotes from other specialist insurers and found one straight away at substantially cheaper premiums and a ‘nil’ excess. I then wrote to the Freeholder advising him of the situation and requesting we arranged our own policy. Much to my surprise he agreed and years later we still arrange our own block insurance”.

“During this time the Directors realised we were doing much of the work that our paid (and ineffective) managing agents should have done and after much discussion we eventually decided to give them notice and take over the day-to-day management ourselves. 10 years on we are still doing so which seems to be well received by our residents as not only are all our accounts and budgets shared and completely transparent but all maintenance is dealt with swiftly and in a planned, proactive way and not the reactive approach from our previous agents. On making it clear that we would not handle leaseholder’s monies directly, we employed the services of a professional accountant to deal with service collection and payment of invoices, with the instructions being given by the committee directly without the need for a managing agent”.

“Having enjoyed the experience and having been a member of the FPRA from the start I responded to a request to join their committee and share our experiences with others and later took over as Chairman, a position which I still hold today”.

“From my own experiences I am well aware that self management is not suitable for every block and every situation and was well-informed about all our responsibilities and the legislation we needed to comply thanks to our membership of the FPRA”.

“I would strongly urge anyone think of volunteering to be an RMC or RTM Director to check out what the responsibilities are and whether your fellow Directors share a sense of collective responsibility to each other. Above all make sure you are covered from any personal liability by taking out a Directors and Officers Insurance policy”.

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