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This photo journal shows the enormous amount of work carried out to Wellington Mansions after it suffered years of neglect due to an absent freeholder. On the Right to Manage Acquisition date the RTM Company Directors and myself took control of the management functions that should have been directly exercised by the former freeholder landlord if he hadn’t been in jail for Customs and Excise fraud! Under s96 of the Act those functions are described as ‘functions with respect to services, repairs, maintenance, improvements, insurance and management.’

It is important to note that we didn’t just take on the restoration of the building but also (through our managing agent) the administration that goes with it.

So after establishing a service charge budget, we commissioned a Building Condition Report to show the condition of the building and to see exactly what we were up against.

It’s executive summary stated the following, starting with the roof:

  1. The roof coverings were at the end of their useful working life:
  2. An internal inspection of our flat established that water leaked into the building during periods of rainfall;
  3. The roof deck felt soft underfoot;
  4. Through years of neglect it was likely that a substantial amount of timber replacement (decking and structural members) might be required in addition to the complete renewal of all roof coverings;
  5. The water tanks located on the roof were exposed to the elements leading to possible/probable contamination of tanked water supplies;
  6. Tank lids, housings and insulation were missing.

This is what it looked like before we started to repair it, cleaning it of moss, plant life and debris, and continuing the effecting of temporary repairs where we could as soon as we could.

This was the intermediate stage.

We also had the following repairs carried out to all the water tanks:

  1. The water damaged water tank houses were dismantled;
  2. The pipework was disconnected then re-connected;
  3. The rotting timber that supported the water tanks were replaced;
  4. The damaged stop cocks were replaced;
  5. The water tank houses were re-built then covered with a felt-covered wooden lid.

Later, when they had all been done, the water was disinfected with silver peroxide which breaks down into the water over a few hours.

Our cold water supplies from the tanks on the roof go straight into the bathrooms and are delivered directly into individual flats so an assessment for our building will cover the following areas:

  1. Cold water should be maintained below 20 degrees centigrade;
  2. There must be no areas where stagnant water occurs (commonly known as dead legs), such as pipes to appliances such as washing machines that are no longer in use, or pipes to garden taps used for car cleaning or watering the garden
  3. Any properties that become vacant should not be left long enough for water to stagnate in pipes and the system should also be flushed through;
  4. Any build-up of debris in the system such limescale, sediment, rust or sludge must be removed;
  5. Any part of the system should be modernised if necessary:
  6. All tanks must be covered with secure lids to prevent contamination by mice, birds, insects or dirt;
  7. The water system must not be susceptible to backflow from fittings or hoses attached to external taps.

ASBESTOS REMOVAL

The boarding to the structural steel work of our building appeared fibrous which was thought to be a sign that it was made from an asbestos containing material. An asbestos survey revealed that we had white Chrysotile which is classed as a carcinogen and whilst dangerous, it is not as dangerous as the other forms of asbestos. The asbestos-containing boarding was declared safe if undisturbed but a panel later became dislodged by a landlord’s contractor carelessly lowering a sofa over the balcony. This posed an immediate health and safety risk to the flat beneath so we had all panels removed from the front and rear of the building.

After its removal we had the following work done:

  1. All the old rendering or pointing surrounding the beams hacked out;
  2. The exposed steel beams prepared for redecoration with two coats of hammerite;
  3. Sections of wood between metal joists and ceiling sections installed and painted in matching colour to the ceiling.

BUILDING CRACKS

The building has sustained a number of cracks over the years which whilst not surprising considering its age (its believed to be a 1930’s build) it certainly wasn’t helped by being ignored for nearly two decades.

All the repairs required the following:

  1. The raking out of slots into the horizontal mortar beds at a minimum of 500mm either side of the crack;
  2. Reinforcing the cracked brick wall with stainless steel bars;
  3. Re-pointing the mortar bed and making good;
  4. Re-pointing the surrounding area where needed.

The repaired cracks encompass the whole building, front, rear and sides. There is also a lintel repair at the rear of the property which spread up the stairs! Another crack was found in the joist underneath a rear flat and was repaired to prevent further damage.

Main Road

There is also a possibility that the cracks repaired at the front centre of the building may have originated from a crack in the main road as it follows through our boundary wall, across our forecourt and up the center of the building. So, to be on the safe side, when the council moved one of the bus stops from just up the road on the opposite side of the road to directly opposite our block I took the opportunity to take photos of the crack at a deeper level before they repaired the road again.

I also drew it to the attention of the council but they were insistent that it was not causing any problems for us. They also said that if they repaired that particular crack in the road, they would have to repair the one further down the road and this was not an option!I also took some photo’s to demonstrate how much heavy traffic our main road gets in case further down the line we have to prove that both the cracks and the traffic are the main contributors to any subsidence to the building.

CCTV

We had been looking to provide safety measures the block for a long time because a number of flats had been broken into.This was scary enough but it got a lot worse when some of our so-called ‘rogue’ landlords handed over their flats to the local authorities who then violence committed against us by their anti-social tenants. but because myself and my partner were the only security the block had and we had sustained a number of physical assaults when we dealt with disturbances in the common areas (which is our remit). Finances and other priorities had dictated otherwise but after working with our company solicitor and successfully getting a lender to pay the arrears of a leaseholder who had (up to then) continually refused to pay, we were able to finally have CCTV installed.

Data Protection and the Information Commissioners Office

By this time we had acquired the freehold through compulsory acquisition so on behalf of the company Directors I contacted the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to establish exactly what our freehold company directors were required to do under the Data Protection legislation. They provided the following advice:

It is essential that there is a clear basis for the handling of any personal information and the handling of images relating to individuals is no different. It is important to establish who has responsibility for the control of the images, i.e. what is to be recorded, how the images should be used and to whom they may be disclosed. The body which makes these decisions is called the Data Controller and as such it is legally responsible for compliance with the DPA.

The Data Controller is the organisation responsible for making decisions about the processing of the images. This would be the Directors of the freehold RMC so as such they may allow other oganisations, such as the company installing the CCTV or the managing agent, to process the images on their behalf. This would be under contract as data processors. In this the freehold RMC Directors would remain data controllers and be responsible under the DPA for any processing of the images.

The Data Protection Act 1998 requires every data controller who is processing personal information to register with the ICO, but the Act provides exemptions from notification for:

  1. Organisations that process personal data only for staff administration (including payroll), advertising, marketing and public relations (in connection with their own business activity) and accounts and records;
  2. Some not-for-profit organisations;
  3. Organisations that process personal data only for maintaining a public register;
  4. Organisations that do not process personal information on computer.

They also advisedparticular attention be paid to the fact that people must be aware that they are in area where CCTV surveillance is being carried out. The most effective way of doing this is by using prominently placed signs at the entrance to the CCTV zone and reinforcing this with further signs inside the area. Such signage is particularly important where the cameras themselves are very discreet, or in locations where people might not expect to be under surveillance. In the exceptional circumstance that audio recording is being used, this should be stated explicitly and prominently.

Signs should:

  1. Be clearly visible and readable;
  2. Contain details of the organisation operating the system;
  3. The purpose for using CCTV;
  4. Who to contact about the scheme (where these things are not obvious to those being monitored, i.e. the name and contact details of the organisation responsible); and
  5. Be an appropriate size depending on context, for example, whether they are viewed by pedestrians or car drivers

CENTRE FLOWER BEDS

Our centre flower beds were were mainly populated by fuschias and the surrounding paths were badly in need of being jet washed.

This is what they were transformed into. As a mark of respect to our former caretaker who had cared for the fuschias for a very long time before he suffered health problems and sadly passed away, we had two large potted fushcia plants placed on the new gravel beds in his memory.

DOWNPIPES

Down pipes are connected to the roof-line gutter which allows water to flow from the guttering to the ground drainage system or waste water from hopperheads (or hoppers) which catch the water from other waste pipes, such as the overflow from the toilet cistern in the bathroom.

We gradually had all ours replaced with round pipes fixed to the wall with pipe clips and brackets which come in two parts (a two-part bracket). One part fits around the pipe while the other part is fixed to the wall. The separate parts are joined together with a nut and bolt. A shoe fits onto the bottom of the downpipe to direct the water away from the wall and into the drain.

EXTERNAL LIGHTS

Installing external lighting was actually carried out alongside the roof and water tanks as the existing wiring and the few lights that had been installed were in a right mess, with exposed wiring on stairwells and bits of foil dishes dotted around the place. There was some light coming from the main road at the front of the building but the stairwell was very dark and gloomy and around the back of the block it was virtually pitch black. A tenant actually broke both ankles on the front stairwell not to mention the drunken behaviour and drug taking of some of the (then) tenants and their friends under the cover of darkness.

The finished work was an extremely professional job and made a tremendous difference.

FLYTIPPING & FIRE!

Before we took control, the constant turnover of rented flats and the unfettered dumping of any and all of their contents was a massive problem. The number of altercations we had with individual landlords and their agents because of their downright refusal to remove what they emptied out of a flat ahead of a new tenant moving in was endless! The following photo’s show just how much was tipped over the years.

The next photo’s show what happened with someone visiting a tenant on the block had a row with them and chucked a lighted match into the whole lot! I recall being asleep at the time when my partner woke me up to say there was a fire and I could already see flames licking upward towards our floor. Pretty damn scary! Not only that, there was an ongoing leak in the center of the area which had started before the fire and the buildings insurance had been allowed to lapse!

This took years to repair because landlords would think they had repaired the leak, we’d wait a while to ensure it had stopped before we issued instructions to repair, and the damn thing would start again!

Eventually though, we reached a point with the current landlord where we believed the leak to finally have been repaired and this is what the area looks like now!

Ongoing Fire Safety

The responsible person for fire safety in the common areas of blocks of flats is the freeholder landlord, the RMC or managing agent and under the Regulatory Reform Order (Fire Safety) 2005 fire risk assessments are essential. They should be specific to the premises and if they are not carried out, or the recommendations from such assessments are not implemented then, if a fire-related incident occurs, the consequences will determined by the courts. We had no managing parties or a freeholders and to make matters worse the buildings insurance had been allowed to lapse!

In 2009, fire risk assessments were no longer carried out on blocks of flats like ours but periodic visits from the fire brigade did lead to us being advised that as we were not a ‘closed’ block we did not require an external fire alarm system. He referred to early warning systems that interconnect all flats with each other so that if a fire started in one of the flats then the alarm would go off in all of them. Not too clever if someone simply keeps burning toast (his words not mine!)
Another suggestion was the possibility of having just one alarm installed in a single flat on each floor, so if a fire should break out in that particular flat then others in the block would be warned. He finished by saying that these are not legal requirements, simply something to bear in mind for future reference.

We were however required to ensure that an emergency action plan should be formulated and placed in strategic points throughout the building.

This was done.

FRONT GATES

We had two front gates installed and the difference in people’s attitude to the property was a absolute study in human behaviour. We have a bus stop immediately in front of the block but we’d never actually had gates before so our forecourt was completely open to everyone, as if it was an extension of the bus stop. We had young adults on mobile phones, young adults peering into windows whilst on mobile phones and little children at risk of injury by running hell for leather on the concrete stairs because their mothers were too pre-occupied on (you’ve guessed it) their mobile phones to even notice!

Before the gates we’d even had to chuck people off the forecourt for urinating on it!

Little or no trouble of that kind since installation though although we’re constantly removing cigarette butts, crisp packets and cans!

GULLEYS

We had a number of gulleys that needed repairing. Unfortunately there wasn’t much we could do about some of the shoddy pipework entering into them as they were carried out by individual landlords!

 

GUTTERING

Guttering is used to efficiently drain water from the roof and prevent problems with damp. Our cast iron gutters had been blocked for literally years so rainwater, (sometimes in very high volume), had discharged onto external walls and onto the ground. Depending on the ground bearing capacity of certain types of ground under the foundations, this can cause sever severe problems such as subsidence.

We’d acted on this by having the guttering cleared and maintained but one day whilst standing by the central flower beds, I noticed that some water was bouncing from an open window onto my head. On looking up there was a gap in the guttering where the water was coming from.

This led to the whole guttering later being completely replaced with UPVC guttering which is lighter than other materials, making it relatively easy to manouevre into position, and it requires very little maintenance.

MOTION SENSOR/FLOODLIGHT

After a considerable amount of time without any vandalism problems, one of the tenants on the ground floor caught someone trying to break into his flat via the bathroom window. So, although we never had to consider it before, we had a motion sensor installed in this area to deter repeat actions. No more vandalism!

POINTING

Pointing (which is the external part of mortar joints) can over time become defective as weathering and decay cause voids in the joints between masonry units (usually bricks), allowing water ingress.
Whilst we have renewed a number of areas of defective pointing, the largest repair was done at the side of the building as it was causing water ingress into the two end flats, back and front.
It required the raking out of the pointing to a depth of 25mm, renewing it and starting at the top going down 20 courses. It also required co-ordinating access to the neighbours drive. I have to say that they (and others that used the drive) were absolutely brilliant!

REAR BALCONY DAMAGE

This is yet another part of a rear wall that had sustained serious disrepair and there was a danger of bits of it falling off!

 

REAR GARDEN

 

We had a very large tree overhanging our block which can be seen in the photograph. It wasn’t actually ours as it was on the other side of our boundary wall and so belonged to our neighbour. Trees (and particularly their roots) need to be monitored and maintained when they are located within a distance that could affect a building. This is  because they can damage drains and undermine foundations, particularly on older properties which may not have any foundations to speak of!. They are often found to be the cause or significant contributing factor to ground movement i.e. subsidence. They also cause dessication by sucking moisture out of the soil (clay soils are particularly susceptible) during the dry months causing it to sink slightly and the property with it. When the soil swells again during the winter the property doesn’t necessarily go back up, or, if it does, not in an even way which can cause significant subsidence cracking. The roots can also cause mechanical damage to drainage and foundations by pressing on them. Some trees are much higher water-demand than others.

This tree was causing a significant lean to our boundary wall and blocking our a considerable amount of light to the upper flat over which it was hanging. After shoring up the wall I contacted a company called the Tree Clinic for advice. After explaining the situation to one of the Directors of the company, I was advised that I should get a surveyor to fully assess the damage to the wall and surrounding area and to write up a report. Were we to then use the Tree Clinic, they would base their remedy on the contents of that survey.

They went on to say that felling the tree in one go would not necessarily be the best course of action because sometimes it is best to remove a mature tree in stages for example, 40 – 50% of the crown (with the tree being left for 6 months to a year) then a further percentage until the tree is fully removed.

Other factors to consider are the potential issue of water that is not taken away from the tree resulting in it going somewhere else and what type of ground the tree is rooted in.

As a result of this telephone conversation we decided to ask our property manager to request that our neighbour put a hold on felling the tree until we were able to act on the advice of the Tree Clinic but ahead of us being able to do so, the neighbours cut the tree right back and then painted stuff onto the stump, which penetrates the roots and kills it off. We’ve had no growth from it to date,  so it looks as if their action has done the trick although we won’t be able to tell for sure until we remove the shoring in order to repair the wall.

We also wanted to overhaul the garden, particularly one end of it as it had been turned over to a tenant to look after after but didn’t work out too well as shown by the last two photo’s. The following photo’s show what it looked like before, during and after transformation.

RENDERING OF FRONT BOUNDARY WALL

Our front wall was in quite a state and the question was should we pull it down and rebuild it or should we repair it from the rendering up? Cost is always a factor when making such decisions so we decided on the latter and it appears it was a good move as the following photographs show. This is only the front of the wall from the outside of the block so the opposite side (from the inside) will need to be done at some point.

SECURITY SIDE GATE

This was a more recent addition to the security measures made to the block and it was because we actually caught some people wandering in off the street and strolling down the side. When challenged they were not very pleasant so we decided to nip this in the bud.

STAIRWELL REDECORATIONS & REPAIRS (front and rear)

One of the biggest differences made to the block was the redecorating of the front and rear stairwells. Balancing finances meant that this had been put on the back burner for far too long but recently we had improved finances and so we finally went ahead and had them done. Pass me my shades please!

The next photo’s show the stairs being made ready for some minor repairs to even them out ahead of their nosings being painted (a health and safety requirement). The last 4 photos are painted step nosings at the back and at the front, 2 of each.

WATER TANK CRACK & DAMAGE TO FLAT

Our neighbour reported water damage to her ceiling and on investigation it was found that the water tank serving her part of the building was cracked. So we had it replaced.

 

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