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Granby House & 15 Piccadilly: Trouble With Guinness Northern Counties

Jill Burdett on trees, damp carpets and problems

Written by . Published on March 7th 2014.

Granby House & 15 Piccadilly: Trouble With Guinness Northern Counties

A GROUP of residents at Granby House, the Grade II Listed warehouse building converted to residential in the 1970s, are going to a Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) later this month to try and get their service charge reduced.

It’s embarrassing. You have this lovely Grade II listed exterior and walk into a lobby that looks more like a 1970s youth hostel.

Each of the 62 apartment owners in this grand old building pay a rate of almost £150 a month, which tots up to £9,300 a month or £111,600 a year, paid to Guinness Northern Counties (GNC) to make sure the building is in tip top condition.

The majority do not think this is the case, hence the tribunal hearing on March 19 in Manchester.

The lead petitioner for the appeal is Martijn de Roo who has lived at Granby for the past seven years with his partner.

He said: “It’s embarrassing. You have this lovely Grade II listed exterior and walk into a lobby that looks more like a 1970s youth hostel. We own our apartment, it’s our home and we love it but we have had seven years of drama and want things to change. It could be a grand old building, if it were kept in good condition.

“The management company is responsible for looking after everything outside our front door and we do not feel they are doing this.”

Martijn started the Tribunal process last May and asked GNC for details of the accounts and the sinking fund and there was a preliminary hearing.

Granby House

Granby House

He said: “We were told it was going to be a meeting with just our Home Ownership Officer, but the management company turned up in numbers accompanied by two solicitors, it was daunting.

“The paperwork and evidence gathering is time consuming and can be intimidating but I think that if you live in a shared building and you all contribute to the costs you should know very clearly where your money is being spent and be regularly consulted.

“We have gone through over 45 pages of spread sheets detailing all sorts of costs but there are lots of unexplained items and we do not think the building is being managed efficiently.

“For instance they spent over £46,000 on external painting but residents are now facing issues with their windows due to the work carried out and the owner below us on the ground floor has had no bathroom ceiling for two years because of leaks in the communal soil stack that no-one seems able to fix.

“Yes, we have a caretaker who costs around £16,000 a year but we also seem to be paying for an external service to come in and perform small tasks the residents feel should fall under the caretaker’s responsibility which does not make sense.”

Thirty five of the 62 residents are petitioning the Tribunal for a reduction and if they are successful it could be backdated for a period of 7 years.

No wonder GNC has come out fighting.

The company is also facing Tribunals from residents in Lancaster House and 15 Piccadilly and residents in all of the three buildings may then consider pursuing a Right To Manage to give them the authority to appoint their own chosen managing agents.

It’s a long process and a Right To Manage should not be entered lightly, especially in listed buildings which will need a lot of on-going maintenance.

LVTs are operated by the Ministry of Justice and in Manchester are held on the first floor of 5 New York Street.

The Granby House Tribunal on 19 March is open to the public so anyone is free to go along and listen but the process usually starts with a site visit so don’t expect the hearing to be underway till mid morning.

I think I may pop in.

What I find nonsensical though is that whatever ruling is made it will apply only to those leaseholders on the petition.

So if they win a reduction the 35 pay less but the other 27 have to keep on paying around £150.

Surely if the Tribunal rules that a fair payment to cover the building insurance and electric and cleaning and repairs and a contingency fund is X then that figure should apply across the board.

Fair and equitable.

Presumably if the service charge is increased the 27 feel smug and if it goes down they have to take their own time consuming action to achieve parity. What nonsense.

A spokesperson from Guinness Northern Counties said: “We are sorry residents feel they have cause to object to the service charges/maintenance works.

“The breakdown of such charges has always been made openly available to every leaseholder from the very beginning of their agreement and we follow a thorough consultation procedure in relation to any works undertaken along with opportunity to report any faults or dissatisfaction with completed works through a snagging system, so they may be remedied by contractors. 

“Both internal and external works are scheduled this year for Granby House.

“These are cyclical works taking place every seven years which would explain why residents feel communal areas are looking a little tired.

“With any home there comes a point when redecoration is needed and Granby House residents will be consulted as normal this year on costs and details of this. Granby House is an old building and we want to make sure it is well repaired and looking its best, at a price which is affordable to the leaseholders.”

As for 15 Piccadilly one resident’s story is so horrendous it is warranting a separate investigation but the owners of the other 18 apartments in this cute little conversion overlooking Piccadilly have specific issues.

Our charge was recently increased to pay for the roof repairs which are estimated at £250,000. We would argue that their failure to remove the tree in the first place caused more damage.

Namely about a tree that was left growing from the roof for years, damaging brickwork and stone coping. It is not clear, but would seem likely, that this caused the roof to leak. The tree has now been removed but the leak appears to still be there, as evidenced by the big damp patch on the top floor landing. 

There are also on-going problems with security; a filthy carpet that should have been replaced four years ago and service charge fees of £223.75 a month.

Owner Adam Gray has lived in the building 14 years and loves the location and space but not the fees or what he feels is a lack of maintenance of the building.

He said: “I would not mind paying the service charge if I felt we were getting a great service – but I don’t. They seem to keep trying to fix things without looking at the fundamental problem. They have spent £7,000 on repairs to the door but it is still not right. A brand new door would have been far cheaper.

“Our charge was recently increased to pay for the roof repairs which are estimated at £250,000. We would argue that their failure to remove the tree in the first place caused more damage.

“We are starting gathering the evidence needed to go to a LVT and have an independent expert assess whether what we are being asked to pay is fair.”

Horrible tree created dampHorrible tree created dampThe same Guinness Northern Counties spokesperson said this: “We are doing everything we can to resolve the issues with the roof at Piccadilly and would like to apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused to residents. Repairs have been made previously and we are currently in the process of appointing a contractor to carry out more in-depth roof work. Once the roof issues are resolved, we will then be in a position to replace the carpets in the communal areas.

 “In preparation for the works to the roof, leaseholders’ contributions to the sinking fund at Piccadilly are currently larger than normal, making their overall service charges higher.  This is to avoid leaseholders receiving a large one-off bill for works. As with all our properties, we follow a strict accounting process and all residents are aware of costs and charges ahead of the following financial year.”

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

AnonymousMarch 7th 2014.

People have been fighting GNC et al since the mid nineties. Accounts were dubious then and figures were hugely questionable but they threatened with legal action as bigger than us and can afford better representation! If you youtube Guinness Trust Offshore Scandal, money is the main concern here! We are an inconvenient after thought as residents!! GNC often threaten residents with legal action. A really awful and intimidating company. There is dry rot in this building, damage and repairs that never ever get done and are 'maintained' and 'fixed' by their 'sister company' 'City Response', there's a beautiful flat roof that could be a roof garden but the entrance is decaying. There have been leaks in the premises and bathroom floors nearly fallen through because GNC deny responsibility. Then they say we are all "happy" in customer service 'feedback forms'! I hope at last we can rid ourselves of these socially irresponsible bullying landlords! Well done all for fighting and thanks so much to Martijn & Mark! Set us free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

rinkydinkMarch 7th 2014.

This is becoming a very big issue for a lot of people and the law needs to catch up

AnonymousMarch 8th 2014.

Having lived as a private owner under this appalling "social landlord leaseholder' has been an exhausting ordeal. Anyone who has come this far will have spent so much time to challenge out of giving up a good proportion of their own private lives just to challenge GNC on basic issues. So many people have given up. Those who have not signed are renters, but the landlords should of paid attention even if they never see the building. The complaint procedures go to the people you are complaining about and then they say nothing is wrong and the complaint has been 'dealt with', even if you and many others disagree. The time and effort to do anything is shameful. I hope the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal cuts through the disproportionate PR and effort to say 'everything is fine and look how much we have done'. There is a petition here for any city centre residents being affected, ignored or mistreated by GNC. I hope all buildings in the city are free of GNC by the end of this process and we are offered political support locally and for everyone in this country who are being exploited in this manner. As recently exposed on Dispatches the law has to change. www.gopetition.com/…/gnc-service-charges.html…

AnonymousMarch 9th 2014.

GNC clearly can not manage buildings correctly, and have a lot to answer for! Bad service and bad attitude towards their paying customers!!!

AnonymousMarch 9th 2014.

How disgusting to threaten the leaseholders with legal action. These bullies need to go.

DutchieMarch 10th 2014.

It is important for everyone (homeowner and tenant) to know that there is an independent body like the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal who can help you assess whether a service charge is reasonable or not. Never assume your management company is working in your best interest, this is YOUR money!

jrsteeveMarch 11th 2014.

Who are GNC employed by though? Why can't they be removed and another management company recruited?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 11th 2014.

Because they are the freeholders of the building and you have to go through very complicated Right To Manage process to have a chance of removing them. They own bits of the buildings outright so even if remove them as managing agents, they'll still own garage etc., and will drag their feet and make things as awkward as possible. But we are more than ready to kick them out!

jrsteeveMarch 11th 2014.

Ah, thought that might be the case.

AnonymousMarch 13th 2014.

I have just extended the leases on two flats I own in Manchester, managed by GNC who are also the Freeholders. The process was lengthy and GNCs tried to charge some £9,000 for their legals alone: for the 6 flats involved. We did manage to negotiate the cost of this particular element which was described as outrageous by our legal team (just for clarity, the Leaseholder is obliged to pay for both sides legal and surveyor fees; as well as the premium itself). GNC are the worst company I have ever dealt with and whilst they are involved in the running of my investments, I am obviously not happy. However, I do now feel more secure in the knowledge that I have an additional 99 years to run on my two leases. Here is the bad news: GNC have increased the management charges this week, to £96.20: a jump from c£74 over a three year period, without proper consultation or audited accounts being available to us as Leaseholders AND for a small converted block with few facilities apart from car parking and a bit of greenery. More interestingly perhaps, the increases have taken place since the lease length dropped below 80 years..I may be a conspiracy theorist but I do think the two are connected. Bit of advice: For anyone participating in this forum, who happens to be a Leaseholder in one of GNCs freehold blocks, I would strongly recommend enquiring about the length of your lease; we paid quite heavily, ours having dropped one year below the 80 year bench mark. Better still, if you can get together with your fellow Leaseholders, rather than extending, it might be sensible to buy the freehold; not much difference in cost (if the lease is not too short) and giving you all the benefits of actually owning your property (rather than renting which is, in effect what a leaseholder does). These including setting up your own management company and creating a new lease to include all the elements/benefits suitable for your particular building. Without at least a lease extension, your asset will only decrease in value (I know the market is improving in Manchester); lenders are reluctant to lend on short leases and you could find yourself in a negative equity situation; especially with interest rates predicted to rise next year. Enough of a 'rant'. I sincerely wish all the Leaseholders at Granby House every success in the next week or so.....

DutchieMarch 18th 2014.

The Granby House LVT meeting will start at 11:30am, tomorrow (Wednesday 19th). It is open to the public so anyone is free to go along and listen to the proceedings. It might give people ideas in case they want to go down the same route. The address is:- Residential Property Tribunal First Floor First Floor 5 New York Street Piccadilly Manchester M1 4JB

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 18th 2014.

Good luck guys! We are all routing for you! High time for a fair treatment of leaseholders!

AnonymousMarch 20th 2014.

Do you know what the outcome was at the Tribunal yesterday?

DutchieMarch 21st 2014.

The amount of information to be covered was so extensive (1600 pages) that they did not manage to cover it all in one day. A further meeting will be scheduled over the next few weeks as there are still a few issues to be discussed. No doubt a new date will be published here. So far it has been a very interesting process to watch, but too early to give an outcome, although the residents feel confident justice will be served.

AnonymousMarch 18th 2014.

I lived in India House which is social housing managed by GNC just around the corner. The service charge was £60 less than Granby at the time. Not that we got what I'd call a decent standard of work for that money either. I couldn't believe the difference in price, especially considering it was in just as bad condition, if not worse than India House. It made a reasonably priced flat unattractive and completely unaffordable. Hope all goes well with the case.

AnonymousApril 5th 2014.

Orient House, next to Granby House: We're tenants, but the same applies. Opal then some other bought them out, now Touchstone all in 4 Years. No security. Only 3 CCTV cams and it gets used as a doss house for clubbers who can't find a way home. The caretaker does his best. I'd never buy a flat in the city centre.

DutchieMay 13th 2014.

The next (and hopefully final) LVT meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday 9th of July. Start time to be confirmed but likely to be 10 or 10:30 am. The address is:- Residential Property Tribunal First Floor First Floor 5 New York Street Piccadilly Manchester M1 4JB

DutchieMay 23rd 2014.

The LVT meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday 9th of July, start time will be 10:30 am. The address is:- Residential Property Tribunal First Floor First Floor 5 New York Street Piccadilly Manchester M1 4JB

AnonymousAugust 21st 2014.

I have been a tenant of Guinness Northern Counties since the late 90s and when I really needed them they showed their true colours. I have had to take them to the Housing Ombudsman, after they refused to allow me through their complaints procedure. I took them to the First-Tier Tribunal regarding rent and they didn't even turn up at the hearing, even though the court was expecting them and the hearing was delayed waiting for them to arrive. Utter contempt. I would advise anyone contemplating renting from them to think twice, as they are a terrible organisation. It beggars belief how they have been awarded the Gold Award by Investors In People. What a complete and utter joke that is. Incredible!

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