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Pebble-Gate Victory For No1 Deansgate Residents

After a four year battle apartment owners win the right to manage their own building

Written by . Published on January 28th 2015.


Pebble-Gate Victory For No1 Deansgate Residents
 

IT'S TAKEN four years and a battle of David and Goliath proportions, but the owners in No.1 Deansgate have finally won the 'right to manage' the building.

"We would have had to seriously consider withdrawing our application. Imagine if we spent close to £50,000 and then lost our case on a technical argument?"

At the elventh hour, with a Court of Appeal hearing just days away, the landlord - global investment giant TRW Pensions - finally threw in the towel.

The sweetness of the victory is tempered by the fact it has cost around £30,000 in legal fees, caused untold stress and was utterly unnecessary in the first place. 

The case all hinged on whether or not the landmark apartment block on the corner of Deansgate and St Mary's Gate, still one of the most prestigious in the city, stands detached and whether, according to one judge: 'one could notionally drop a pebble so that it fell vertically to the ground between the buildings.'

Catch up on the story here.

It’s almost a full twelve months since we broke the story and in that year it has been great to see more and more residents across the city flexing their legal muscle, however puny it may be, to get some control of the buildings they call home. 

They all have Confidential's admiration and support because wresting control of your home if you live in a leasehold property is not easy.

No1 DeansgateNo1 Deansgate

The No.1 Deansgate fight has been led by the charming and ever-patient Steve Birkbeck, a man who knows his way around the Manchester property scene. Birbeck is unimpressed with the Leasehold Law as it stands and the lack of support available to residents.

He said: “It's been a very long and in many ways unnecessary fight for something which we have a legal right to obtain and one which is enshrined in law. 

“The frustrating bit about the whole legal process is that nothing really changed from the very first decision. It had to run through a very slow and complicated legal system.

“Firstly, an upper tribunal appeal should never have been allowed. It was blatantly obvious that the landlord’s lawyers were constructing a technical argument in an attempt to prevent us from pursuing our rights. Cases of Right To Manage (RTM) where residents are invoking their legal rights should be fast-tracked through the system.

“Secondly, there should be funds made available from central government to help residents pursue their rights. We were very fortunate in that we had a small number of very persistent people who were absolutely committed to the cause.

“If I'm completely honest, had the Court of Appeal decision been different and a hearing was allowed, we would have had to seriously consider withdrawing our application. Imagine if we spent close to £50,000 and then lost our case on a technical argument?

Steve BirkbeckSteve Birkbeck

“I fully understand that the legislation is new and that there's no case law to refer to, however, we have now funded a test case which no doubt will be referred to by many thousands of other residents and have had no help from government. 

“Many other residents finding themselves in the same position as ourselves may not be in a position financially to fight well funded landlords. That's very wrong."

The defining moment came back in October when a week before an oral hearing on whether they would be granted leave to appeal (TRW had already been told in writing that they would not - that’s how long-winded this process is) they withdrew their application. 

There followed a 90 day cooling-off period and then finally on January 25 residents acquired the RTM.

Management of the building was handed over the same day to Block Property Management which is now in charge of the service levels and charges.

It was the sky high charges – up to £6,000 per year and a total bill of £550,000 per annum - which prompted the RTM in the first place.

Birbeck said: “Owners were frustrated that service charge costs were spiralling out of control and others worried that the high service charges were putting some buyers off purchasing. 

“It’s a misconceived perception that No.1 Deansgate is home to the rich and famous, the vast majority of owners are normal hardworking people.

"Pressure from these residents back in 2010 resulted in a reduction and a change in management in 2012. However, we continued to fight for the RTM because ultimately we wanted this to be a decision in the hands of resident's hands.

"If the landlord sold their financial interests in the building any new landlord could change the management and the residents wouldn't have a say.  

"Since the change in 2012 service charge costs have reduced and stabilised, however, we're confident further reductions can be made. We also believe further reduction in costs will return buyers’ confidence leading to stronger values within the building. 

"We are looking forward to working closely with Mark Habib at Block Property Management over the next twelve months and our ultimate goal is to ensure that No.1 Deansgate maintains its position as arguably the most prestigious, desirable and well known address in the city."

No1 Deansgate from Market StreetNo1 Deansgate from Market Street

Mark Habib, is delighted to have the building in his portfolio and said: “The residents of No.1 Deansgate want a building that is safe and fully maintained, but want to be able to have their say on important matters affecting their home and wallet. They now have the power to do this.

Although there are many companies that promote RTM, I would always advise that in the first instance, landlords should be given the opportunity to engage with their lessees and listen to what they want. This promotes trust. As RTM is still largely untested in many areas, my view is that it should only be considered as a last resort, as was the case with No.1 Deansgate. 

“The building is now over twelve years old and I believe that the next twelve to 24 months will be very important in developing a sustainable strategy. We have made a solid start by making quick savings by breaking up larger contracts and employing individual ‘cost effective’ suppliers. 

"Owners of No.1 can now be comforted in the knowledge that they have the autonomy of managing their building as they see fit, and have an agent that will look after their interests.” 

This is another important win for owners in Manchester, and while the city had its own task force  set up recently to deal with such problems, nothing much has come of it. With the current wave of construction, now's the time for it to kick-in.

The No.1 Deansgate case has been picked up by the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, a boring name for an interesting campaign site dedicated to 'keeping the wolves from your door'. 

www.leaseholdknowledge.com

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15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousJanuary 28th 2015.

Well done! What great result.

urbanbubbleJanuary 29th 2015.

Congratulations guys and good luck Michael Howard

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2015.

congrats! fuck TRW Pensions.

Kevin PeelJanuary 29th 2015.

I beg to differ Jill - much has come of the taskforce I chaired over an 8 month period last year. We made a dozen recommendations, half of which relate to government action (including the needed support mentioned above for residents to exercise their rights) and have been sent to the party leaders and housing spokespeople. I met with Labour's Shadow Housing Minister in December to discuss it and was pleased that she took it very seriously and I think we'll see some of our work in Labour's manifesto. The other half relate to council action and most have been integrated into the city council's new market rental strategy, which if you haven't read it I suggest you do. We had a robust discussion at the January meeting of the neighbourhood scrutiny committee and the work of the taskforce was praised in shaping its development. Finally, simply the attention it received has brought many more residents forward who have experienced issues and we've been able to link them up to those who have gone through these expensive and timely legal processes to get tips on how to move forward themselves.

SteveJanuary 29th 2015.

Oh here we go...Kevin bloody Peel and his taskforce, who instigate and drive everything in the city centre! Do one!

3 Responses: Reply To This...
GimboidJanuary 29th 2015.

You do know Kevin is a city centre councillor, don't you? Would you prefer if councillors were silent about residents' problems?

SteveJanuary 30th 2015.

Yes I do realise that Gimboid as I have been a city centre resident for many years

GimboidJanuary 30th 2015.

And to my second question?

Kevin PeelJanuary 29th 2015.

Do have a read of the report we produced, Steve. You might find it more interesting than being rude to people on the internet.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
A RJanuary 29th 2015.

Hi Kevin, First of all congratulations! I have recently bought an apartment in the building (although not moved in yet) and have therefore been following this keenly. I must admit the high rates really put me off buying. Now its all over, how much do you realistically expect the rates to come down by (%) over the short and medium term? Can we really reduce them to an affordable level given the building construction type?

Kevin PeelJanuary 30th 2015.

I'm not sure of the answer to this, A R. Contact Steve Birkbeck who can provide you with more information?

JoanJanuary 29th 2015.

Congratulations to Steve Birkbeck for having the energy and guts to stay with this and to produce well-deserved results which will really benefit people. Commiserations to the other Steve who doesn't appear to understand how the world works. I was a member of the group [not a taskforce] ably chaired by Kevin. Sensible recommendations were made and change will come through a mix of reviewed policies, negotiation, and legislation. It won't all happen overnight. That's how things are changed in the civilised world. Comments like 'Do one!' are only effective in yob-land, which is not where we are operating.

AVOJanuary 29th 2015.

Surely the £30,000 incurred in legal costs is recoverable from the other party unless they offered to withdraw from their position with no order as to costs?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 30th 2015.

No, the Leashold Valuation Tribunal cost are not recoverable by the residents. Another anomaly in the syste that is skewed against leashoders.

AnonymousJanuary 30th 2015.

Congratulations a great win!

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