Managing the Common Arrears
Managing and maintaining the physical health and safety of what are known as the ‘common areas’, (i.e. all the areas not owned by individual leaseholders), is the overall responsibility of the freeholder, whatever form that freeholder takes and whether or not they use the services of a managing agent. The way these areas are run is governed by a considerable amount of health and safety legislation and both the Health and Safety Executive and the Courts view these areas in the same way as they do commercial properties.
The common areas of our building are:
- The building structure;
- The roof;
- The land the building stands on;
- The foundations;
- Load-bearing walls;
- External electricity cupboards
- Garden shed
- Rear garden
Unlike more modern buildings, it doesn’t have interior common areas such as:
- Plant rooms;
- Lifts and lift motor rooms;
- Meter cupboards;
- Internal bin chutes.
In order to start the management of these areas we had to set up a service charge budget from scratch as we inherited no funding. Then we commissioned a Building Condition Report as it had been several years since the HHSRS survey had been carried out by the council and it was obvious that the state of the building would have worsened.
The following broad guidelines on how to manage those areas and when, have been sourced from the Federation of Private Residents’ Associations (FPRA). Not all will apply, (depending on the type of the building) and it is the terms of the lease that should be the definitive guide.
- Asbestos Review Report
- Buildings Insurance (a condition of purchasing a flat)
- Emergency Lighting
- Garden Review
- H&S Audit/Update
- PAT Testing
- Porter/Staff Reviews
- Roof Inspection
- Tree Inspection
- Water Risk Assessment for the Legionella bacteria
- Window Cleaning
Every 6 Months
- Inspect/Clear Gutters
- Jet Wash Paths
Every 3 Years
Health & Safety – Major Review
Buildings Insurance – Alternative Quotations
Every 5 Years
- Communal Electrics – Full Inspection by a Part P registered electrician
- External Decorations
Every 7 Years
With external problems it is essentil that both owner-occupiers and leaseholder landlords work with the freeholder to remedy the issues. For example, penetrating damp (which can be found at any level) and rising damp (often found on the ground floor of blocks of flats) can be contributing factors towards condensation as can poor ventilation. Internal plumbing leaks can cause water ingress into surrounding flats, and whilst the parties are obliged to fix the source of the leak, the water has to go through the ceiling voids and structure, which are common areas belonging to the freeholder. Some leaks are easier to trace than others and slow leaks if not found and remedied quickly can lead to serious problems such as a collapsed ceiling. We’ve had two!
When both freeholders and leaseholder landlords don’t abide by the lease covenants and the tenancy agreement, redress can come through the use of the Housing Act 2004, specifically that of the Housing Health and Safety Ratings System.
Although this legislation is primarily used for assessing the conditions of rented flats, it actually applies to all residential properties. We have used this legislation ourselves for both the common areas (when we had no freeholder) and for individual flats and with the latter, leaseholder landlords can be bound under it.
So, in essence, whilst there is plenty of legislation surrounding the management of blocks of flats, good communication between all parties is essential!