Residents contest estimated home improvement works bills
By Luchia Robinson
Leaseholder tenants on the Turner Avenue Estate say they are facing lifelong poverty after receiving bills of estimates for major external works to their homes.
There are 70 homes on the estate, of which 29 are leasehold residents, required to contribute to the major works bill.
The works amount to £2,608,320.63, and the leaseholders, are expected to contribute just over £1million in total to cover the costs, under the terms of their lease.
The billed residents say the works, (which include the installation of flat roof covering, windows, communal doors, external brickwork and concrete repairs), will leave them in financially precarious situations.
Writing to the council, the Turner Avenue Leaseholder Association (TALA) said: ‘Not only can we not afford to cover the astronomical cost of the work (even if paid for over ten years), we cannot sell our properties because of the extent of the works anticipated and the associated cost, nor can we privately let the properties to cover the additional cost of the work, as we are then forced to pay for the works within three years (which amounts to over £1,000 per month), according to the details provided within the notification of estimates. We are essentially stuck.’
The External Major Works Programme was approved by full council in February 2020, and is being delivered as part of the council’s plan to improve the quality of homes in the borough.
The council states that the completed works will: ensure that a minimum of 95% of homes meet the Decent Homes standard by 2022; guarantee compliance with current fire and building regulations; and be designed in a way that prevents crime and anti-social behaviour.
Turner Avenue Estate had previously been a part of the Decent Homes Programme − a £70million government funded investment plan to improve the condition of social housing. However, the estate was removed from the programme in 2013, when it was decided to include the homes within the now failed, Haringey Development Vehicle.
Leaseholder contributions would have been capped at £15,000 if the estate blocks had remained a part of the Decent Homes plan, as originally intended. This is because of financial protections factored into government funded home investment programmes.
The works to now improve the Turner Avenue Estate to meet the Decent Homes standard (as part of the External Works Programme) is now being funded by the council, without government funding, which means, leaseholder contributions do not have the protection of a capped charge.
Charity sector worker, Melanie Scagliarini, has an estimated bill of £35,000. She said: “We’d suggest that the council is in breach of its freehold because they haven’t maintained the building which is in their contractual obligation to us. Now they’re placing the financial responsibilities onto the leaseholders, for work that they should have maintained.”
The major works are expected to be completed by December 2021. To date, there has already been a delay in progressing the planned programme because the scope of the works was expanded to include estate improvement works, which include: redecorating railways, cleaning external brickwork and removing staining.
TALA states that these are maintenance works covered in their service charges, and should not be factored in as part of the major works bill.
“Some of these charges, we feel are unfair, and very questionable,” said Melanie.
“Notwithstanding the mental and physical distress that this has caused during a global pandemic, and during the deepest recession.”
“I’m a single person, I’m lucky enough to be working, but I’m just making enough to cover my bills; I’m on my credit card for food. The range of leaseholders in the block are either retired or they’re working a couple of jobs, some of them were born on the estate, − they’re not middle-class people moving in, they’re working class people that have kind of worked their way up.
“The majority of people in this building are elderly, they’re Black, they’re Asian, and they’re [from minority ethnicities]. They are people who we’re supposed to be shielding because of Covid, but [the council] don’t seem to care.”
Melanie added: “We (leasehold tenants) would agree the estate does need some love, we all agree that the roofs could be done, and windows could definitely be done because the council haven’t done them for a long time. Painting, repairing − that should have been done under our service charges − we barely see a cleaner and that’s supposed to be in our service charge.
“Our concern is that these notifications of estimates could just escalate and escalate.”
The council states that ‘not to carry out these works would amount to neglect of duty and our responsibilities to our residents.’ These essential major works, it says, will be undertaken in accordance to Public Health England guidelines with respect to Covid-19.
The council adds that the improvements listed are one-off costs which do not constitute as everyday maintenance as covered by the day-to-day service charges. It also insists that from the time the estate was taken out of the Decent Homes Programme, until now, that all essential repairs were
carried out, meeting statutory safety requirements, and that backlog of repairs did not build up.
The council has made the leaseholders aware of the payment options available to them, which includes the option of paying interest free instalments.
Although the major works will primarily impact women, people living with disabilities and residents from minority ethnic backgrounds − all of whom are overrepresented by Homes for Haringey (who manage the estate), the council states that: ‘There is no indication that this decision will result in any foreseeable negative impacts on any individual or group that shares the protected characteristics.’
Melanie remains unconvinced, she says: “We need to look at this more pragmatically − not in a way that’s going to hurt the residents at risk of Covid, and put all of us into lifelong poverty, because we’re already struggling − either in poverty or on the breadline as it is.