Residents of ‘dilapidated’ Dorchester Court vent their frustration at landlord’s statement – BrixtonBuzz

Dorchester Court: residents angrily respond to landlord's statement to Brixton Buzz

Last month, we reported that the millionaire landlord of Dorchester Court in Herne Hill was applying to build luxury penthouses on the site, while existing flats remained in a state of disrepair.

Property Partners, the ‘niche property and asset management advisory business‘ who represent the Court’s freeholder Manaquel, sent us their response to the article, while Sally Beck reports on the residents’ growing frustration with their landlord.

Dorchester Court residents suffer disrepair while millionaire landlord looks to build luxury penthouses

Statement from Property Partners

Dorchester Court is a superb estate and Manaquel Company are committed to revitalising the development back to its former glory.

As part of its planning application it is pledging to ensure that all structural works to brickwork, balconies and windows are undertaken as a first priority. They have had continuous dialogue with DCRA over the past 15 years but have been continually thwarted by them.

Manaquel Company have lodged a summary plan with the Council that deals with rehousing tenants at Dorchester Court whilst works are undertaken. It is fully anticipated that the detail will be discussed and agreed with the Council and residents further during the course of the application and if necessary detail secured by planning condition or legal obligation prior to works commencing.

It is unfortunate that a small number of long leaseholders are trying to derail the proposals by making inaccurate statements.

It is important to note that the costs of repair and refurbishment to the building are in fact closer to £10 Million. These costs have been exacerbated due to the fact that the building was listed.

Manaquel have always regarded the purpose of the planning application as a resourceful means of raising the funds required in order to restore the Estate to its former glory and has genuinely considered the development project as an enabling program for the good of the Estate and its occupants.

The development will not provide the landlord with any windfall, as they have demonstrated to the local planning authority, contrary to what the tenants wish to believe. The development would in fact produce a long term benefit for the long lessees by also reducing their service charge liability.

Throughout the pre-application planning process the freeholders have consulted  with the tenants’ association and have made every attempt at each stage to address their many concerns.

The general, continuous, persistent and ongoing resistance from these few long lessees has largely contributed to the protracted application, the increased costs of the repair to the building and the delay in being able to commence these much needed works, of which, ironically, they themselves now complain.   

Manaquel will continue to work with the local authority to ensure that all planning guidelines are met and that works at Dorchester Court can commence forthwith.

The penthouses will be built quickly as modular high quality apartments on a block by block basis whilst the structural repairs are undertaken and the townhouses will be built last, as explained in the planning application documentation.

Finally, the landlords are prepared to enter into a Section 106 agreement with the Local Authority, so as to guarantee that the penthouses and town houses which they apply to construct are built as part of an overall scheme which is sympathetic and in accordance with the character and appearance of the estate.

We hope the above demonstrates our clients commitment to Dorchester Court and provides some clarity surrounding their view on the past and present.

Dorchester Court residents react:

The managing agents of dilapidated Dorchester Court have criticised residents for complaining about a lack of repairs.

They say they have been ‘continually thwarted’ by them in their attempts to refurbish the 1930s, grade II listed building in Herne Hill, and they accuse leaseholders of ‘causing delays’ and ‘pushing up refurbishment costs’. The repair bill has soared by 85 per cent from an estimated £15,000 per flat in 1999, to £100,000 per flat in 2020.

Leaseholders say if it wasn’t for the efforts of the Dorchester Court Residents’ Association (DCRA), there would be no talk of repairs at all.

Ben Archard, the Court’s treasurer said: ‘We have been requesting, with increasing frustration, that repairs be carried out since the 1980s and we have documentation of these requests.

‘We have challenged Manaquel (the company who own Dorchester Court) to carry out the works adequately and on budget but have never stood in the way of them carrying them out.’

Phase one of the major repair works, began in 2005, when Manaquel attempted to repair the failing heating system. It took them 10 years to complete, leaving residents without adequate heating and hot water over two winters.

Once the repair was finally finished, Manaquel were forced by Lambeth’s Conservation Department to remove unnecessary pipework they had placed in the communal hallways. The pipework contravened the listing and did not contribute to the repair. Manaquel refunded leaseholders around £13,000 each flat for unnecessary charges.

Manaquel say that they have learned from past mistakes and that phase 2 will be different. Daniel Cusack, director of the Court’s managing agent Property Partners said in a statement: ‘As part of its planning application Manaquel is pledging to ensure that all structural works to brickwork, balconies and windows are undertaken as a first priority.’

Architect Mike Rundell, who lives near Dorchester Court and has analysed Manaquel’s planning application said in his official objection to Lambeth Council: ‘There are many descriptions of problems and a list of possible repairs, but this is completely different from a written undertaking to carry out those repairs.’

Manaquel also deny that tenants will be evicted so that they can ‘partially demolish’ the Court in order to refurbish. In his statement, Mr Cusack says: ‘We have lodged a summary plan with the Council that deals with rehousing tenants whilst works are undertaken. It is fully anticipated that the detail will be discussed and agreed with the Council and residents during the course of the application.’

In Manaquel’s application, ‘rehousing’ is never mentioned, only ‘decanting’ and it’s not clear whether tenants refer to leaseholders and renters, or just leaseholders.

Renters make up 70 per cent of Dorchester Court’s population and their spokesperson from the Dorchester Court Tenants’ Union said: ‘We are shocked to hear Mr Cusack claim that renters will be rehoused and would love to have concrete details of any proposed rehousing. To date, we have seen none.

The only information renters have had is a letter from Property Partners informing us about the planning application. We are aware that the landlord has a legal obligation to rehouse leasehold tenants but there is no legal obligation to rehouse renting tenants.’

Leaseholders are also blamed for the huge increase in refurbishment costs. Mr Cusack said: ‘Costs have been exacerbated due to the fact that the building was listed.’

But as far back as 2003, a year before the listing, and the year the DCRA first challenged costs of the proposed refurbishment with the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) (a statutory body set up to mediate between landlords, leaseholders and tenants), the LVT ruled: ‘Manaquel’s past failure to fulfil its repairing obligations had created a situation in which the cost of the proposed work was bound to be put in issue…’

The Court, built by award-winning architects Leslie Kemp and Frederick Tasker, was listed the following year in 2004 by concerned leaseholders.

One, who still lives at the court, said: ‘We could see that the Court was being run into the ground and we suspected that Manaquel wanted to apply for its demolition. Listing was the only way to save our homes.’

Mr Cusack says that the planned development of eight townhouses and 16 penthouses at Dorchester Court – which take precedent in Manaquel’s planning application over repairs – are: ‘…a resourceful means of raising the funds required in order to restore the Estate to its former glory.’

Manaquel’s current revenue from rents on the estate are between £1.25 million and £1.4 million while last week, Manaquel’s owners Heinrich and Dwora Feldman, moved up one place on The Sunday Times Rich List with a personal fortune of £210 million.

Mr Cusack said Manaquel planned the development to be an ‘enabling development’; a planning term used to define a type of planning application for the renovation and development of a listed building.

Mr Archard explained: ‘To qualify, you have to undergo intense scrutiny of materials, works proposed and costs. The final agreement is legally enforceable. At the last minute, during the coronavirus lockdown, Manaquel decided to submit a straightforward planning application which would mean far less scrutiny.’

Mr Cusack claimed: ‘The landlord will not make any windfall from the development and that the leaseholders service charge would be reduced.’

Leaseholders currently pay an average of £450 per month in service charges which covers their heating, hot water, communal electricity, gardener and estate manager.

One leaseholder said: ‘We would welcome any reduction in service charges. We’ve read Manaquel’s viability study and any windfall figures are unclear.’

If the development goes ahead, it is unlikely to be sympathetic to the original building, which was constructed to the highest standards.

The penthouses are to be prefabricated and it’s not possible to tell what materials are being used from the application as the drawings are half the size they should be. Mr Cusack denied they would be poor quality and said: ‘The penthouses will be built quickly as modular, high-quality apartments.’

In section 4.5 of Manaquel’s planning application it says the development will be cheap (itals) using words like, ‘avoid the highest specification, and therefore costly, new build design…’ and ‘not gold plated.’

In his planning objection Mr Rundell says: ‘It is rare to identify the fact that new dwellings are intended to be built to medium to low quality.’

Mr Cusack insisted that the landlords were prepared to enter into a legally binding Section 106 agreement with Lambeth Council: ‘to guarantee that the penthouses and townhouses are built as part of an overall scheme which is sympathetic and in accordance with the character and appearance of the estate.’

His statement says nothing binding about signing a S106 to refurbish. He only says: ‘It could include a guarantee that the refurbishment takes place.’

The last word is probably best left to the LVT, who in their 2003 summing up said:

‘If well maintained Dorchester Court would be an attractive period building capable of offering a pleasant living environment. It has not however been well maintained: there is an air of general dereliction…Manaquel must bear a heavy degree of responsibility for the serious situation that has arisen…’

Twitter: @DCMatters2020 and @court_union

Website: dorchestercourtmatters.org

[Article by Sally Beck]

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Forced evictions, rent rises and poor conditions at Dorchester Court, Herne Hill

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