Cllr Bowden met with residents at The Base, Dallam Lane, to hear their stories of feeling misled when purchasing leasehold properties, and of their ongoing struggles with a range of issues, including escalating ground rents.
The government is currently looking at the reform of the leasehold system.
Joining Russ and residents at the meeting were cabinet member for housing, Cllr Maureen McLaughlin and cabinet member for environment and public protection, Cllr Judith Guthrie.
Also taking a leading role in the discussions was Catherine Williams, who co-founded The National Leasehold Campaign (NLC) in 2017. NLC has been set up to campaign for the abolition of residential leasehold, as well as full and proper redress for people in England and Wales currently trapped in leasehold contracts.
Catherine talked about the success of the campaign, which has built a following of 15,000 people on Facebook. She also talked about the group’s influence in Parliament, and being invited, along with Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, to speak to MPs about the issue. More than 160 MPs have now have signed up to an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), to consider leasehold reform.
The group heard stories from residents about it not being made clear that they were purchasing a leasehold property until a deposit was paid, and of being told by housebuilders that they would be able to purchase the freehold on their property, before it was sold off to investors from under their noses.
Residents also shared their experiences of the escalating costs and stress of being trapped in leasehold properties, and of the freeholders of their properties charging large amounts of money for permission to carry out simple renovations and home improvements, excessive maintenance costs and rising residential ground rents.
Following the discussion, an action plan was drawn up, with the council committing to support residents by:
• Tabling a motion at Full Council, providing a statement of solidarity for residents trapped in leasehold properties
• Developing plans to refuse to work in partnership with developers who continue to sell new-build properties on a leasehold basis
• Working and communicating with developers about the issue
• Asking local solicitors to stand in solidarity with the council and residents
Cllr Russ Bowden said: “This was a really valuable discussion, which gave us greater insight into the issues local people are facing. We heard stories from residents who have been trying to free themselves from leasehold contracts for many years and the misery it is causing them and their families. We learned about the huge impact being trapped in a leasehold property can have on people’s abilities to make plans or move house.
“We are committed to supporting residents in any way we can, and we will be continuing our discussions with them. Our action plan gives a way forward to work with, and assist those residents, currently trapped in leasehold contracts – and to take steps to prevent local house buyers being exploited in the future.
“It was also fantastic to meet with NLC, to find out more about their campaign and forge new links with them. We will continue to support them in the work they are doing.”