Shared ownership leases don’t tell you everything you need to know. Ex-shared owner Maggie O’Connell* explains what’s missing, and how she successfully took on her housing association.
“From a young age my parents drilled into me: read contracts and understand what the black and white is saying. Pay attention to everything you sign, and anything you put your name to. Like buying a property and signing a lease.“
Written in black and white
Your shared ownership lease should include everything you need to know. I say “should” because, in my experience, it doesn’t. It should because the lease is your contract with your housing association. It’s in black and white: a legally binding document covering your own and your housing association’s respective obligations. But I discovered it isn’t that simple…
Leases are written by lawyers, for lawyers. My lease wasn’t written in Plain English. Even so, I was able to read it and translate the important parts. However, when it came down to needing it… me and my housing association didn’t agree on what the lease was saying.
“My shared ownership lease didn’t say I was responsible for 100% repairs and maintenance“
Firstly, there was ambiguity about maintenance and repairs within the apartment. I assumed fixtures and integral ‘built in’ things like radiators, the boiler, and the fitted kitchen were shared with the housing association. Nowhere in my lease – or in the marketing material – did it say I was responsible for 100% of all the costs of repairs and maintenance. Thankfully for me, when something went wrong, my hands-on dad was willing to spend his annual leave helping me in the flat. I shudder to think what would have happened if something serious or technical had gone wrong – like plumbing or electrics!
“The sales terms I had to sign, in order to sell, were onerous“
The next deviation from the lease came when I was ready to sell my apartment. I already knew there were clauses in the lease guiding this, and believed this was to enable the apartment to stay within the scope of ‘affordable housing’. However, looking back, it seemed like the housing association were more interested in making a ‘quick buck’.
They gave me a Resales Pack. Imagine my horror when the sales terms I had to sign, in order to sell, contained a large number of onerous clauses that were nowhere to be seen in my actual lease. Namely, I had to pay:
- 100% of the survey costs;
- a marketing fee of 1% plus VAT;
- fees for a leaseholder pack, plus an external managing agent pack (over £500 plus VAT);
- photography fees ; and
- their legal costs.
I would have to pay yet more fees to staircase to full ownership if the flat didn’t sell to someone on the housing association’s list and went to the open market. I would have to pay any shortfall if the property had lost value. And, if I didn’t sign these terms, I wouldn’t be able to sell my apartment. But I knew my rights.
“I’m a fan of Martin Lewis, champion of all things consumer, and I knew my rights“
I knew that the law would be on my side because I had complied with my side of the lease obligations yet now – a number of years into the contract – the other party were trying to force additional terms onto me. I’m not a lawyer. But I’m really stubborn. I’m a fan of Martin Lewis, champion of all things consumer. And thanks to learning from the best, I write a great complaint letter!
Unsurprisingly, my complaint was escalated up the food chain very quickly. One step below Board level, the manager understood in no uncertain terms that I had lined up a lawyer should they prevent me from selling. My housing association promptly informed me that I was indeed welcome to sell my apartment, that some of the proposed fees wouldn’t be charged (photography and their legal fees), and there were would be no additional marketing fees to pay. I paid for the surveyor, and one leaseholder pack, but I can live with that. As a shared owner, I was used to paying 100% of everything (despite the fact that’s not in the lease). You choose your battles…
The moral of the story: carefully read and make sure you understand your shared ownership lease. Take your time to read the key points, take it line by line if you need to, and write out the related points in your own words. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need to. And push back if the other party is trying to circumvent their responsibilities, or push you to do something that isn’t there in black and white!
- Name has been changed
Featured image: Sale photo created by xb100 – www.freepik.com