Swindon business woman and property manager Cherry Jones is standing up for lease-holders, and for the integrity of her profession, by drawing attention to the practices of large companies which are preventing flat owners across Swindon from choosing their own managing agent to levy their annual service charge.
She has run her Swindon property management company Home From Home for 30 years and has become very concerned that lease-holders are not being given correct information on their rights to choose who manages their block of flats.
Explaining the problems being faced by flat owners in newly built blocks Cherry said: “Over the past couple of years I’ve been approached by a number of people who were having difficulties with their managing agent.
“It appears that their service charges were kept artificially low while the properties were being sold, then inflated afterwards. They were also being told by their agents that they couldn’t exercise their right to choose their own managing agent until all the flats in the complex had been sold, or until the development was complete.
“In some cases lease-holders were being told that the development would not be signed off as complete, until the developer’s community contribution had been deployed (Section 106), or until the estate’s roads were fully adopted by the council (Section 38). If this was true, the lease-holders could be tied in to the same agent for anything up to 10 years.”
Cherry brought these issues to the attention of North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, pictured with Cherry. He has worked with her to help identify whether the large managing agents used by the developers were within their rights.
Having met with Steven Taylor, the director of Law and Democratic Services at Swindon Borough Council, Cherry reported: “Mr Taylor refuted that there is any intrinsic link between the property agents’ claims and their refusal to allow the flat owners to choose their own agent.
“Basically this means that the agents have been exploiting the lease-holders’ lack of understanding of the law, as well as the likelihood that no one would challenge them about it.”
The matter has now been escalated to Westminster, where Cherry and Justin met with the Housing Minister, Mark Prisk. Commenting on the issue, Justin said: “It’s a matter of urgency that we establish whether lease-holders are being trapped into paying extortionate service charges by unscrupulous managing agents. This could be a national issue that affects thousands of people and it makes me extremely angry that this is happening.”
Acknowledging that her business may benefit from lease-holders being allowed to exercise their right to choose their managing agent, Cherry said: “I’m fighting for this on a matter of principle, and I’m grateful to Justin for taking this on board. Swindon has given me a good living for the past 30 years and it makes me so angry that national companies who mostly aren’t even based in Swindon should be exploiting residents in this way. It’s pure greed.”
Since the story was published exclusively in Swindon Link magazine on 1 January 2013 Cherry has been contacted by eight lease-holders who are concerned that they are being denied their rights. If you are effected by the issues in this story, contact Cherry at Home from Home: email@example.com or call 01793 740745 or 741027.
Images by Richard Wintle ©Calyx Multimedia, 41, Churchward Avenue, Rodbourne Cheney, Swindon SN2 1NJ • MOB: 07836 205196 www.calyxpix.com