Block of flats falling apart – what can we do?

by Readers Question

11:22 AM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

Block of flats falling apart – what can we do?

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Block of flats falling apart – what can we do?

Well, not quite but close…

I own a leasehold flat in an 18 unit block in Halifax. All units are owned by investors. About a year ago we took over the management, using the RTM Process. Myself and one of the other owners are now directors of the Right To Manage (RTM) company and we have a managing agent in place. The freehold is owned by a third party.

On the 19/2/2013 the building was inspected by an independent surveyor who wrote a report. The reason for the inspection is the poor condition of the concrete walkways. We bring you here the relevant sections of the report so that you can get an understanding of the situation.

Description & Background:

KC comprises a residential complex of flats constructed over three levels and provides accommodation within 18 units. We would estimate that the complex is 50-60 years old and is constructed of cavity brickwork external walls with a pitched clay and concrete tile covered roof. The intermediate floors, balconies and external access stairs are constructed of reinforced concrete, which appears to be case in situ. Block of flats falling apart - what can we do?

Brief:

We understand that render has been reported as spalling from the underside of the external walkways which serve the first and second floor levels of the building. The purpose of the inspection was to determine the cause of the defect, set out an appropriate course of action for further investigation and propose longer term remedial measures.
We have also been requested to make any relevant general observations with regard to the premises and highlight matters of particular health and safety risk.

Inspection

The building was inspected by Bond Bryan Building Surveying Ltd on 19th February 2013.

Executive Summary

A brief visual inspection of the property known as KC Halifax was undertaken by Bond Bryan Building Surveying.
The purpose of the inspection was to investigate and comment upon spalling render to the underside of concrete walkways at the rear of the property and other items of disrepair identified during the inspection.

In all situations further investigation and testing of the concrete is necessary however we are able to comment on the overall condition and make recommendations as to the most appropriate courses of action.

We would describe the condition of the external walkways as very poor. The spalling of the cement render coating to the soffits of the walkways is attributable to the significant deterioration of the reinforced concrete.

The reinforcement bars embedded within the concrete slabs have corroded significantly. The bars have expanded through corrosion which has caused cracking and spalling of the concrete.

In our opinion the concrete slabs of the walkways have deteriorated beyond economic repair and it is our recommendation that they are removed and replaced with a steelwork structure.

Our challenge is:

We are told by the managing agent that if we don’t take the next step – which is have the concrete tested – they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable managing the site.

As far as we are concerned, no-one knows how long the concrete will last. It could be 5-10-20-30 years. All a test would supply us is with the state of the concrete at the moment and an opinion as to how long it would last.

Myself and the other director went to inspect the site with an experienced builder who explained that he would be able to make good the exposed areas of the walkways so that there is no danger of falling concrete.

We would much rather make good the exposed areas than going through the test which will, possibly, force us to go through a very very expensive repair process (the report speaks of more than £300K to replace the walkways with a steel structure). The flats are currently worth £40K each and there is no way any of the owners could afford to pay more than £16,000 for such a job.

Our questions are:

1. What can we do in this situation which would protect us as directors from being negligent while finding a practical and cost effective solution to this problem?
2. What are we required to do by law?
3. What is the responsibility and obligation of the freeholder in this situation?

We would appreciate any information or advice you may have.

Many thanks

Nitzan



Comments

Annette Stone

11:53 AM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

Okay so your building was put up in the 60s and seems to be what experts call a perfect example of "brutal architecture" in that it is fairly plain with lots, and I mean lots of concrete.

Lots of these buildings are beginning to suffer now and in many cases there is little to be done but a major refurbishment which on flats valued at £40K each may be impossible.

Obviously without knowing all the details any comments can only be general but to deal with the points you raise:

1. I would suggest that you bring in three firms of concrete specialists to identify the problems and give a full quote for what they consider to be necessary. Stress to them that repairs rather than replacement are the preferred option and see what they say. IF they all say repairs will not work there is your answer.

At the same time I would let all of the lessees know that there are major problems and that they MAY lead to very heavy expenditure. You may wish to do this by means of a letter which accompanies a Section 20 Notice detailing the failure of the concrete. This will just save some time. It also protects you if very large bills are necessary as no lessee will be able to say this came out of the blue.

Once you have the three quotes, compare what they say and if they all give the same sort of information you will know what needs to be done.

At that point I would go back to the surveyors and see whether they would be happy with the builders' proposals for repair.

if so, and the managing agents do not want to continue managing, then change managing agents.

if the managing agents appear eager to get rid of the building and they have arranged the insurance cover this MAY be because they would like to get the building off any block policy they run BEFORE any claim (a remote possibility but a possibility nevertheless) can be made

In law you have an obligation to ensure that the building is maintained properly but I believe that as long as you are seen to be dealing with the matter as quickly as possible your directors' and officers' insurance should protect you. If you are worried then a call to the broker should help provide some advice and reassurance.

As far as the freeholder's responsibility is concerned by forming the rtm you have removed this from him and it now falls fairly and squarely on the rtm to ensure that the building is properly maintained.

Nitzan Marinov

19:28 PM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

Thank you Annette, for a thorough response. at this point, I'm not sure what to ask further. I will consult with the other director and present your answer and will come back to the thread once we have more comments/questions.

In the meantime, it would be great to hear from other members who have experience in this type of situation.

Many thanks
Nitzan

Jay James

20:19 PM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

I am not a legal expert, but that is not necessary to know who will have to pay for any necessary works.
Whoever is responsible for organising necessary works, the leaseholders will have to pay for it.
They will need to be convinced the works are unavoidable and it is them that will have money problems if the work is unaffordable, not anyone else.

Nitzan Marinov

20:31 PM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

Hi Jay Jay,

I was under no illusion that the leaseholder will have to foot the bill. My question is more to do with, in crude terms. "what is the minimum we must do to make sure that we, as directors are not legally liable in case something happens to the structure of the building that affects health and safety".

Thanks
Nitzan

Jay James

20:43 PM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Nitzan Marinov" at "23/09/2013 - 20:31":

There is probably no precise answer to your question.
Only that you should do as much as possible to ensure you have assessed the situation thoroughly and presented the information to the leaseholders.
Basically, pass on what relevant professionals have said to you, in a timely and clear manner.
--
It is possible that the concrete walkways will need replacing and leaseholders may need to sell up.
--
Are you also a leaseholder?
Sorry, but memory tells me you may be and I'm not wanting to re-read the forum.

Nitzan Marinov

20:47 PM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

Yes, Jay Jay.

I am a leaseholder as well as one of the directors of the RTM.

Jay James

20:53 PM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Nitzan Marinov" at "23/09/2013 - 20:47":

I'm a leaseholder too, but have no control over the spending on the block. (The managing agent is the freeholder and is a social landlord).
Over priced expenditure on works over £250 is a big worry for me, though nothing like £17000 per flat has arisen yet.

I really do sympathise with you.
A problem bigger than dispatching your RTM responsibilities may be the need to sell up.
--
Lets be mercenary here for a moment.
If leaseholders sell up a £40k flat because £17k work needs doing, it may be possible to buy them cheap and redevelop.
That's an opportunity for the buyer if they can get the whole block.
--
I wish you the best both as RTM and leaseholder.
Please let us know here how it works out.

Nitzan Marinov

20:57 PM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Jay Jay" at "23/09/2013 - 20:53":

Yes, it has crossed our minds at some point. Just not sure how it will pan out as most people bought the flats when they were valued at £60K 🙁

Jay James

20:58 PM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Nitzan Marinov" at "23/09/2013 - 20:57":

Ouch!

Jay James

21:00 PM, 23rd September 2013
About 5 years ago

what do they / can they rent out for?

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