The Resident Management Company is a legal entity which act as a person in its own right and it is the Company Director(s) who exercise all powers on its behalf. The most significant difference between Directors of commercial companies and those of an RMC is that Directors of the latter are voluntary and not usually paid! They will nevertheless take on a great amount of legal and fudicial responsibility.
The long leasehold sector has seen the introduction of many Acts of Parliament with the aim to make long leasehold more equal with that of freehold. There are 5 specifically concerned with the management of blocks of flats: the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987, the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development 1993, the Housing Act 1996, and the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002. There has also been the newer Act, that of the Leasehold Reform Amendment Act 2014.
In addition to be familiar with the above legislation they must also be familiar with the lease(s) and abide by the RICS Service Charge Residential Management Code and Additional Advice to Landlords, Leaseholders and Agents (3rd Edition).
The Code was initially approved by the Secretary of State under s87(7) of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 with the 3rd edition of the Code coming into effect as of 1st June 2016 under The Approval of Code of Management Practice (Residential Management) (Service Charges) (England) Order 2016.
It is however not legally binding and so breaching it is not a criminal offence, nor does it create any civil liability. There are also no routine checks made on agents to ensure they are abiding by the Code so unless their contents can be used in evidence in court and tribunal proceedings, where freeholders or managers have failed to comply with them, they are in reality ‘best practice’ guides.
RMC Directors will also need to abide by the best practice guide of the ICAEW Tech 03/11 Residential Service Charge Accounts as they will be responsible for both the service charge accounts (monies paid by leaseholders and held in trust) and the statutory accounts of the company which is money generated from premiums paid by leaseholders such as ground rent and lease extensions. There are mixed opinions as to whether both accounts should be combined but Tech 03/11 states that they should be prepared separately. Whilst it doesn’t expand on this, the key reason is that service charge accounts are required to follow the terms of the lease making them incompatible with the statutory requirements laid down by Companies House.
Directors are not only bound by the Companies Act 2006 but by the common law of fiduciary duties which have legal force involving trust.
The precedence created is that directors ‘are bound to use fair and reasonable diligence in the management of their company’s affairs and to act honestly’ implicitly to the benefit of the company’s shareholders, creditors and employees.
In other words, the directors will act in the best interest of all concerned parties.
These duties include:
- Prohibiting loans to directors;
- Restricting other credit to directors;
- Disclosing details of loans and other transactions in which a director has an interest in the accounts.
These rules are complex and in many cases extend to persons connected with a director.
Whilst the role of the Company Secretary has been abolished it is still highly recommended that RMC’s continue to use one. There are no specific requirements/qualifications needed to act in this capacity.
Fees will cover:
- Acting as registered office;
- Secure the holding of and the ongoing maintenance of the statutory books and registers;
- Receiving and re-directing post received at the address;
- Monitoring official correspondence received from Companies House to ensure compliance with statutory deadlines and any other matter that may arise;
- Preparing and filing the Company’s annual return each year; and
- Filing the Company’s accounts.
Due to the logistics of running a block of flats, RMC’s will invariably use the services of a managing agent. They will however need to resist the temptation to sit back and let them get on with it as they will need to work closely with them in the following areas:
- Health, safety, maintenance and repairs of the common areas;
- Service charge budget setting;
- Service charge collection/demands and debt recovery under the Debt Pre-Action Protocol;
- Adherence of the process for major works and long-term qualifying agreements;
- Ground rent collection (if the company does not do it themselves);
- Lease extensions (an agent will often outsource to a solicitor if the RMC does not wish to handle them through their own company solicitor).
They must also be prepared to act as any other commercial employer would which includes questioning any action taken on their behalf by the agent that they do not understand.
WHO CAN BE AN RMC DIRECTOR?
Anyone can be a Director unless they have been disqualified under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, or by being an undischarged bankrupt. There are no maximum age limit but s157 of the Companies Act 2006 (minimum age for appointment of director) imposes a 16 year minimum and s159 of the same Act (existing under age-directors) states that directorship ceases where a company has an under-age director on the implementation date (1st October 2008). Also there are no statutory limitations as to nationality or residence so it is possible to merge these into the company Articles but this rarely happens. It is unusual for modern company articles to impose a share qualification but if they do then the shares must be acquired within two months of the Directorship appointment.
Volunteering to become an RMC Director is a role that should be given careful consideration due to the responsibilities that will be taken on.
For example, under the Corporate Manslaughter Act of 2007, not only can Resident Management Companies be prosecuted under criminal law for serious breaches of health and safety law but the Health & Safety Offences Act 2008 raised the maximum fine for offences in the lower courts from £5,000 to £20,000. It also increased the number of offences for which an individual can be imprisoned. It is therefore vitally important for RMC Directors to be aware that it is they who keep overall responsibility for the health and safety of their block, regardless of whether they delegate to others or not.
Failure to prepare and keep records, maintain the company registers or file the accounts can result in the Directors being held liable for penalties, criminal prosecution and possible disqualification. But how can RMC Directors protect themselves against someone making a claim against them? The answer is that of Directors and Officers Liability Insurance and more on this can be read here in the excellent overview of the subject by Laura Severn, of award-winning Brady Solicitors