Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing to you in my capacity as chair of the County Hall Owners and Residents Association (CHORA), in regard to the application submitted by County Hall Management Company (N&S) Ltd and County Hall Management Company (Courtyard) Ltd for dispensation to the requirement to consult under Section 20 of the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985), (ref. LON/ooAY/LDC/20/015221)
In their submission County Hall Management Board state that there does not exist a resident’s association at County Hall. This is untrue. CHORA was established in 1997 and continues to represent the owners and residents of 615 County Hall apartments. I have been chairman since 2013.
CHORA work with a number of bodies including Lambeth Borough Council and Transport for London (TfL). In 2018 we successfully negotiated compensation of £100,000 from Canary Wharf Group for the inconvenience caused to the residents by the building works on the Shell site in York Road.
That sum was provided to the County Hall Management Board earmarked for improvement work for the County Hall gym as a benefit to all residents. To date no improvements have been implemented but the fact that that compensation money was provided by CHORA to the Management Board, the Board, Mr Christopher Baker and Ms Shabana Fardous are aware of CHORA’s existence.
Until 2016 the estate was managed by Rendell and Rittner Ltd. when the board decided to 'self-manage' to emulate a similar decision by the board of a nearby estate, Whitehouse Apartments, ostensibly to reduce costs by saving the management fees. However the Whitehouse board found it quite onerous and costly to keep up with changing legal obligations and reverted management to a professional management company. They found that their total costs actually increased as they could not benefit from the economies of scale that a professional management company enjoyed by managing multiple properties. Knowing this however the County Hall board continued to self-manage.
Since then there has been a marked decline in consultation with residents and transparency by the board’s decisions and activities, not only in the matter of the water tanks. I note in their submission that the board 'inform' residents of issues, and of their decisions in 'newsletters' three times a year. I would argue that 'informing' every now and then is not consultation, and that there are many opportunities for the board to properly consult with residents, including through CHORA, on a matter where expenditure of over £1,000,000 was being considered, if for no other reason than to cover themselves.
CHORA conducted a survey in 2020 on these matters and a summary of results may be found on the website https://www.chora.org.uk/chora-survey-2020 In general residents feel that the fabric of the buildings is in decline, that they are being poorly maintained and that communication from the board is woefully inadequate.
The County Hall accounts for 2019 were inexcusably late and lacking in critical detail. Costs have risen enormously with little to no explanation and owners were recently advised that further increases in the order of 20% are expected as a result of overspending in 2020. We now await the 2020 accounts which will hopefully clarify how the board managed to overspend by such a concerning amount.
In the matter of the water tanks, there was ample opportunity to properly consult with residents between the time the initial fault was discovered, the delivery of two reports by engineering consultants, obtaining quotes for work and the decision, in secret, by the board grant the contract. There was no particular urgency to make this final decision to spend this vast amount of money as the 'blue pipe' had been in place for two years and had proved adequate as a temporary fix.
With little communication and decisions made with little justification behind closed doors and zero transparency it is not easy to avoid the conclusion that the board has been either negligent, incompetent or worse in its administration of residents' funds and management of the estate and now seek to protect themselves by obtaining this dispensation from their clear duty to consult. This being the case granting dispensation would severely prejudice the interests of all owners and their ability to seek redress should it prove necessary to do so.