It can be tempting for leaseholders to think that things are taken care of for them in a managed block of flats – but there are some practical things every resident really ought to know. We’ve put together a checklist of what we think should be on every leaseholders’ list.
1) Who are the ‘movers and shakers?’
It may seem as if things happen in your building happen by magic: everything seems to work OK, the grass gets cut, the lobby gets cleaned, the lift is serviced and that niggling drip from the guttering has been sorted out and that irritating muddy bike is no longer being left at the foot of the stairs.
If, like most people, you pay your service charges on time and without question you may never come into personal contact with the managing agent or the neighbours who voluntarily run the residents association or management company on your behalf. It’s worth making sure you know who they are.
For one thing, they will be up to speed on all the covenants – the rules by which you all need to live – and can probably answer any questions quickly.
Keep a note of who the agents and ‘committee members’ are so you know who to contact with any queries or in an emergency.
2) The key covenants in your lease
A lease is about so much more than how long you have left to run on it and how much you have to pay.
Things like AirBnB lets, noise, clutter in communal areas, and parking are all likely to be covered. So, too, will be the freeholder’s obligations (do remember that even if flat owners own a share in the freehold, they still have the duty to comply!)
You can save yourself a lot of grief if you know not to leave your bike in the wrong place, or can refer to the lease if you have to challenge a neighbour about their behaviour.
Make sure you understand the terms of your lease.
3) Safety alarms and spare batteries
Modern buildings may have hard-wired smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, but most of us still rely on battery-powered models, and ideally, you should test those batteries once a week says Which? It’s usually just a case of pressing the test button on the front.
If the battery is chirping, it needs changing. Even mains powered alarms have batteries, to act as a backup in case the mains supply fails and these will eventually start to run low too.
Be sure to know how your alarms are tested and where your spare batteries are kept. Also, do elderly neighbours need a hand with the weekly testing?
4) Where’s the “Fusebox” and which switch is which?
A consumer unit, still fondly known as a fusebox by many of us, is where the electricity in your home is controlled and distributed.
It’s important that you know where it is in case you ever need to turn the electricity off in an emergency. Equally if one of the circuit breakers trips, you will want to know which circuit it is so you can work out which appliance has caused it and isolate it before you restore the power.
Know where your ‘fusebox’ is, and which switch will instantly turn all the power of in an emergency. Check the circuit breakers are labelled for easy identification.
5) Where’s the gas cut off? And how to reset the boiler
If you have a gas supply, you need to know where the gas cut-off is.
If you have a gas combi-boilers then make sure you are aware of how to adjust water and radiator temperatures for maximum efficiency, and how to reset it if it goes out. Of course, if a problem is not fixed by following user instructions, contact a qualified engineer such as can be found on the Gas Safe Register1. https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/
Know where your gas cut off and where you keep the user instructions.
6) Where’s the water stop cock?
When your water is gushing – possibly into the flat below – there is no time to be looking for the stopcock. It should be somewhere obvious but that’s not always the case in older converted buildings.
Escape of water damage, from either sudden burst pipes or insidious drips and leaks, is one of the most common causes of insurance claims in blocks of flats. It causes misery and may increase your premiums. It’s best stopped at source by regularly checking pipes and connections, but if the worst happens turning off the supply will minimise damage.
Know where the stopcock is and make sure you can get to it easily. Why not test it to make sure it hasn’t seized up?
7) Where are your spare keys!
Most of us leave a spare key with a friend, and in a block of flats it makes sense to choose someone who’s already in the building to keep a spare key for your flat.
However, you may also leave sets with family and other friends, and it’s all too easy to lose track, which rather defeats the object of having a spare set somewhere for emergencies. If the key is labelled with an address it becomes a security risk for the whole building if you don’t know where it is
Insurance brokers can arrange cover for stolen keys to common areas. Cover for accidental loss is also available, and you may need consider it if you have a lot of flats in the block and/or special keys that cannot be simply recut in a high street shop.
Make sure you know where all your spare keys are and impress upon neighbours the importance of taking care of theirs.
8) Your contents insurance company details
While the buildings insurance will almost certainly be covered by your service charges, and will include fixtures and fittings like the bathroom suite and kitchen units, your furniture and belongings are not.
In these days of online quotes, it’s tempting to change provider every year to see if you can get lower prices, and easy to lose track of who you are with.
Update you records with your current policy number and providers details.
9) When’s the next service charge bill due?
You will have been sent copies of the service charge budget and had the opportunity to raise objections but, either way, be sure to keep on top of your payment schedules so you know when to expect a bill and how much it will be.
Ask the building managers if there are any big recurring or unusual items imminent – such as periodic external decoration or a new roof – and if they are covered by reserve or sinking funds2.
Know what expenditure is in the pipeline so you can plan ahead for the cost of living in the block; and be sure to avoid any nasty surprises.
10) Torches and batteries
Have a safe place where you know you can always lay your hands on a torch with a full battery in an emergency!
The sole purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the issues covered. This article is not intended to give legal advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. We make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein or in the links which were live at the date of publication. You should not act upon (or should refrain from acting upon) information in this publication without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited trading as Deacon accepts no liability for any inaccuracy, omission or mistake in this publication, nor will we be responsible for any loss which may be suffered as a result of any person relying on the information contained herein.