In the past year, many of us have become far more comfortable with using our home broadband and phone connections to stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues. Free online services like FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom, all helped to keep us connected.
For those responsible for managing blocks of flats these services can be a boon, enabling you to keep leaseholders informed and updated on what’s going on in the building.
WhatsApp Groups are also a great way of keeping a friendly watch on everyone’s wellbeing, and enabling people to ask for help, from shopping to picking up medicines or keeping an eye on their flat if the go away.
Hopefully, anyone not in the block group, perhaps because they are not connected or confident with digital communications, had a kind neighbour knock on their door from time to time.
Some residents, however, might feel it all gets a bit much, with far too many messages creeping into the feed about people’s pets, grandchildren or baking triumphs.
If this is the case, rather than risk people quitting the group and losing the camaraderie created you may like to consider dropping a gentle reminder to members that the block group is for block matters, such as requests for and offers of help only.
You could also include a reminder that people can turn off distracting audible notifications every time a group message arrives, and that they can clear messages and images from their own phone without deleting them for others devices.
Formal notices and service charge demands
Remember though, WhatsApp and similar platforms, are not a replacement for email for formal management communications.
Email gives you a better audit trail of sending and receiving important communications and is likely to be increasingly preferred for service charge requests as more people opt for paperless communication.
And always check that the lease allows for formal communications, such as service charge demands, to be delivered electronically. Somewhere in every lease, it will specify how service charges are to be served and this may be mandated or permissive.
Mandated is where the lease requires a document to be served in a specific way, such as first-class post to a specific address, or hand delivery.
Permissive is where the lease allows for a document to be served in various ways which might be post as above, or by a method nominated by the receiver to the sender (such as email).
Older leases often still say that “Section 196 of the Law of Property Act 1925 shall apply”, which states that the demand must ‘be in writing’. That said, as we approach the centenary of the Act, we could probably all agree that email would today likely be considered as ‘in writing’.
All the same, whatever the lease says, it is wise to get the permission to send emailed notices from each individual leaseholder and, in its absence send a hard copy. When sending by email, click the Delivery Receipt option before pressing send.
Any service charge demand, however sent, must still contain all the required information including the landlord’s name and an address in England or Wales (the law differs in Scotland). Leaseholders do not have to pay the service charge until they are given this information. The name and address of the managing agent will not count unless they are also the landlord.
Management company meetings
For management company meetings, Zoom has been a boon during the various stage of lockdown as it can be so much more time efficient and personable than just a voice at the end of a phone line. You also have the option to record the meeting, making producing accurate minutes easier. Many blocks may be happy to continue to hold all, or some, meetings over Zoom.
Do, however, follow your usual formal procedures as there is still serious work to be done. Be clear on who is chairing the meeting: it may not be the same person who set it up and who has control of letting people in and out.
One of the Internet sensations of 2021 was surely the infamous Handforth Parish council meeting1 in which councilors lost their cool and traded insults, leading to the now famous Jackie Weaver to kick chairman Brian Tolver off the Zoom call after he told her to “stop talking”, and added: “You have no authority here.”
Actually, it seems likely that she didn’t have the authority to remove people from the meeting, but let’s just hope peace has broken out in Handforth and let it be a lesson to us all to make sure we know who is in the chair!
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.