'I was gobsmacked' - Leaseholders hit with £108k bill for roof repairs

Alok Baluni, Marlborough House

Alok Baluni says he cannot afford to pay the money being asked of him by Watsons estate agent - Credit: Sarah Burgess

A horrified leaseholder left jobless by the pandemic could have to pay £10,000 for roof repairs he can't afford.

Alok Baluni, 46, is one of 11 flat owners at Marlborough House on Grove Road in Norwich required to collectively foot a proposed £108,000 re-roofing bill from Watsons estate agents, which took on management of the property in October 2020.

Leaseholders have been told paying for the bill is a legal requirement, with a surveyor identifying "major issues" that Watsons claims had not been previously addressed. 

Marlborough House on Grove Road, Norwich

Marlborough House on Grove Road, Norwich - Credit: Google

However, two of the three top-floor leaseholders we spoke to said they never had leaks, and were "baffled" by why the roof suddenly needed complete replacement.

Mr Baluni, who paid £162,000 for the leasehold to the flat five years ago, has along with others paid quarterly maintenance charges of £450 — but Watsons said these do not cover "unforeseen major works" such as roof replacement, and that when it took over the management nothing had been left in reserve. 

Mr Baluni said: "I was gobsmacked when I saw that bill come through my letterbox in July.

"I've lost my job because of the pandemic, and have a wife and eight-year-old daughter to care for. It's giving me sleepless nights.

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"Apparently all our monthly charges are good for is someone coming to hoover the landing and cut the grass every six months."

Alok Baluni with his wife Navita and daughter Adya

Alok Baluni with his wife Navita and daughter Adya - Credit: Supplied

But a Watsons spokeswoman said: "As responsible agents, we must act diligently to remedy issues as and when they are identified.

"The repair works require carrying out now due to the condition of the roof.

"We always urge leaseholders to review their leases in respect of understanding their obligations."

Watsons has initiated a Section 20 consultation of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, whereby all leaseholders are given the opportunity to respond to the proposed works.

It said whatever is decided by the consultation is legally binding for Mr Baluni and his neighbours.

In the proposed estimates sent to leaseholders, £73,367 is for the contractor, £7,336 for contingency fees, almost £10,000 as a project management fee to Watsons and the rest is VAT.

The table of estimates sent by Watsons to the leaseholders at Marlborough House

The table of estimates sent by Watsons to the leaseholders at Marlborough House - Credit: Submitted

The spokeswoman added: "While no request for payment support [from leaseholders] has yet been made, we have already confirmed when the time comes we would happily discuss potential payment plans with the freeholder of the property.

"We sympathise with the position of the leaseholders but our role as managing agents is to maintain the fabric of the building on their behalf.

"No reserve fund was built up historically but we have allowed provisions for this in the budget moving forward."

Mr Baluni is trying to establish a Residents' Association to challenge the bill.

Fellow leaseholder Christos Sofupoulos said: "I am more than happy to contribute to a new roof if that's what we need to keep us safe.

"But nearly £110,000 is too much out of the blue. They should have planned for this.

"We've been told whatever Watsons doesn't use will be returned to us, but in my experience that never happens."

Neighbour Leon Nockolds said he too was "very frustrated", particularly given what tenants had paid in quarterly contributions.

"There should have been a pot to deal with this, and they should be more clear about why the works they've outlined are necessary. We had no indication this bill was coming," he said.

Leon Nockolds said he was very frustrated with the way the situation had been handled

Leon Nockolds said he was very frustrated with the way the situation had been handled - both by Watsons and the previous agent - Credit: Sarah Burgess

What are your rights as a leaseholder?

The Grenfell disaster opened up a debate about who should cover the costs of unforeseen expenses beyond residents' control — leaseholders, freeholders, developers, or a combination.

Leaseholders at the Read Mills development on Norwich's King Street, for example, were hit with a collective £60k bill back in March for fire safety checks due to flammable cladding.

Riverside flats in King Street, Norwich; New Ferry Yard, New Half Moon Yard, and the Malt House, tar

Residents at the Read Mills development hope to get the results of a fire safety survey on their flats in the next few weeks - Credit: Archant

You only own a leasehold property for a fixed period of time, and have to pay things like service charges or ground rent as part of this lease.

Leaseholders can apply to a first-tier tribunal if they feel service charges or charges made under an estate management scheme are unreasonable, or if they were not consulted properly during the Section 20 process. 

Are you a leaseholder who has been hit with an unexpected bill? Email sarah.burgess1@archant.co.uk