Someone far more erudite than me once described service charges as being like batteries – no-one likes paying for them, but when you don’t, things cease to function quite quickly. A common source of angst between landlord and leaseholder, disputes about the reasonableness and payability of service charges are the most common reason for referral to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT).
So, how to explain to a disaffected leaseholder that in order to maintain probably their single most valuable asset, they should pay a sensible and often not insubstantial cost into virtual perpetuity? I have had conversations with new owners who have never lived in a flat before and were either badly advised at the time of sale or chose to neglect the advice and see no reason why they should pay anything. ‘It’s my flat, why should I be liable to pay anything towards the building’ is the usual refrain. Thankfully, our more clued up clients understand the false economy in not implementing a sensible level of contribution, and also that legal corporate obligations within a residential setting mirror that of the commercial world.
Evidently any service charge should adequately and appropriately cover the services provided. In general terms the higher the level of service, the higher the service charges levied. However, there is also a clear requirement to reflect this in smaller managements which may have a higher maintenance requirement. The conversion block of seven flats in Cadogan Square, 150 years old, with a full-time resident porter, an ageing passenger lift and high ongoing general maintenance requirements, may well have a higher per-unit service charge than the 700-flat shiny newbuild block in the Docklands with a communal lounge, resident workspace and landscaped grounds where the higher number of units spreads the service charge load more widely.