COVID – 19 UPDATE – PRINCIPIA ESTATE & ASSET MANAGEMENT
Principia have been monitoring events around Covid19 over the last week and as a precaution reduced the number of employees travelling to the office. In view of the evolving situation and the Government’s recent advice, we will be implementing further precautionary measures with effect from Monday 23rd March 2020 to safeguard the interests of our staff and clients and to ensure business continuity.
The following plans have been put in place:-
• A minimal number of staff, who do not have to travel by Public Transport will be in the office to open post, hand out keys to contractors and deal with day to day matters.
• All other staff will be working remotely with access to our usual systems to ensure continuity of service and minimise disruption.
• Calls to the office will be transferred to the relevant member of staff and a direct dial number will be provided for future use.
• Meetings will now take place via conference call or Microsoft Teams rather than face to face.
• Where site staff are present, we have given them clear advice on the precautions to take to minimise infection and the process to follow should they or one of the residents become unwell.
• Cleaners have been asked to pay particular attention to ‘high touch’ areas.
Whilst we will try and maintain a business usual, this could change depending on the availability of our contractors and suppliers. Should further advice be received from the Government which means we have to change our plans, this will be communicated with you.
We appreciate people will feel unsettled in this time of uncertainty and would request you take all precautions necessary to minimise time spent in communal areas as much as possible.
We are aware there may be some vulnerable people within the buildings and would urge neighbours to check on each other. If you become aware of someone in your building facing difficulties or contracting the virus (confirmed), please let us know immediately so we can notify the other occupiers within the building and we will take any necessary actions in line with the Government guidelines.
If you exhibit any of the Covid19 symptoms, please use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do next.
• In England call 111
• In Scotland call your GP or NHS 24 on 111 out of hours
• In Wales call 111 (if available in your area) or 0845 4647
• In Northern Ireland call 111
If you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 7341 0220 or use one of the links below. If your property is rented out, please pass a copy of this information on to your Tenant.
If you have an emergency out of hours please contact the out of hours service on 020 7123 5158.
• If you can smell gas - Please contact National Grid on 0800 111 999.
• If you have no electricity - Please ensure this is not just demised to your flat by checking lights/ plugs in other rooms and your fuse board. If after these checks you and your neighbors still have no electricity please call your electricity supplier.
• No water – Please check that you have cold water running from your kitchen tap, if not check with your neighbours if they are having the same issue as you may need to contact Thames Water directly on: 0800 316 9898 or check their website for any problems in your area: https://live.thameswater.co.uk/no-water
We would like to take this opportunity to wish you all well and stay safe.
Simone Carlon| Director
Question: We aren't happy with our managing agents. How do we switch?+
The short answer is speak to us and we will explain the process from start to finish. Dependent on who is responsible for managing the building (e.g. the freeholder, the headleaseholder), a switch can be very straightforward with the right incoming agent on board, managing the transition. Most of our clients are RMCs (Resident Management Companies) therefore a change of managing agent can be dealt with within three months. In fact, we have in some cases, taken on a building with as little as a few days' notice. ARMA provide useful guides to appointing a new managing agent and changing a managing agent, which can be found on their website. arma.org.uk
Question: We manage the building ourselves and we are concerned we are not doing it correctly and we have leaseholders who are not paying their service charges. How can you help us?+
Over the last few years, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of enquiries from so-called self managed buildings. Leaseholders have come to realise that there is a huge amount of legislation surrounding property management of residential buildings and that they are best served by employing a professional, ARMA-accredited arma.org.uk managing agent. Legislation that managing agents need to be aware of concern such diverse areas as accounting for client money, health & safety, major works and insurance procurement. A managing agent needs to be a Jack of All Trades and to some extent a master of all. Understanding the lease terms and complying with them is vital to the successful management of a block of flats. And when it comes to requesting service charge payments from leaseholders, there is no substitute for checking the lease very carefully and ensuring the charges are demanded strictly in accordance with the leases to ensure the best chance of recovery if the instruction of solicitors is required.
Question: How do we choose the right managing agent for us?+
ARMA (arma.org.uk) guides to choosing a management agent are very useful and should be referred too before selecting a managing agent for the first time, or if you are changing your agent. The managing agent you choose should come with glowing references; have personable and well trained and qualified staff (particularly through the IRPM - irpm.org.uk); manage similar properties in similar localities; is able to reach your property quickly by car or public transport; be a full ARMA member. Take references, draw up a shortlist, don't let price alone be your main driver as you get what you pay for. And don't be afraid to quiz your shortlisted agents in depth!
Question: Why should we choose an ARMA accredited managing agent?+
At present in England & Wales, anyone can establish themselves as a managing agent, hold and expend client money, arrange repairs and maintenance etc. In Scotland this is not the case, as the property management industry is regulated north of the border. Until there is regulation, the closest thing to regulation is full membership of ARMA which was founded in 1991. ARMA-Q was launched in 2015 and at its inception in January 2015, fewer than 170 managing agents nationwide were full members. To check that a managing agent is an ARMA member, please visit the ARMA website (arma.org.uk).
Question: How do I know if the service charge I pay is fair and reasonable?+
There is landlord and tenant legislation in place to ensure landlords (and therefore their managing agents) spend service charge monies fairly and reasonably. Any professional, ARMA-accredited managing agent will be able to provide you with clear information about how your money is spent. If you are concerned at how your money is currently being expended and have some examples, please contact us and we will be able to guide you.
Question: A friend of mine lives in a similar building but his service charges are much lower than mine. Why is this?+
Each block of flats is unique and must be treated as such. Some properties will have lifts, communal boilers, porterage staff, gardens, and large reserve fund contributions, which can all contribute to higher service charges. And even if your building enjoys these services, it could be that their managing agent is achieving better value for money across the board. The main items on your service charge budget tend to be ‘staff' and ‘insurance'. Obligation free, please contact us with a copy of your service charge budget and we will give you an insight into how the figures may have been obtained – and potential savings that could be made.
Question: We employ a managing agent but we have no confidence that they will be able to handle our forthcoming major works project. Can you help?+
Many managing agents cope fine with the day-to-day running of their clients buildings, however they often come unstuck when major works are due, which may cost each leaseholder many thousands of pounds. Managing agents should be proactively monitoring the state of the building and the requirements as laid out in the lease. Some leases may require, for instance, external repairs and redecorations to be carried out every five years, so around one year in advance of the works being due, we would start the major works process with the client and in doing so, ensure all leaseholders have plenty of time to prepare their service charge contribution to the works. We work closely with a select group of Chartered Building Surveyors, who have first class track records in preparing for and overseeing major works projects for residential buildings. Do contact us if you would like to know more about how we approach major works.
Question: We have a communal boiler for our hot water and heating. It is not very reliable and winter is fast approaching – so we are all concerned about it working over the colder months of year. Can you help us with this?+
We manage many properties with communal plant – typically boiler systems providing hot water or heating or both – so it is vital that the plant is well maintained and any major repairs (or replacement) are planned for well in advance. We work closely with M&E consultants who fully understand the technical workings of communal boiler plant and the importance of effective ongoing maintenance. They fully appreciate that any ‘down-time' must be minimised. For an unreliable boiler system, we would recommend a survey is carried out by a suitably qualified M&E expert to ascertain the problems with the plant and explore with the expert options to ensure reliability, efficiency and longevity. In the same way that you would have a surveyor/project manager look after your external works project, if major works are required to your plant, an M&E expert would survey, draw up a specification, tender and oversee the works on site, whilst the managing agent serves the statutory notices, raises the necessary funds for the works, accounts for the works throughout and generally assists the M&E expert and directors however it can. See article entitled Getting Hot Under the Collar. Similarly with lift plant, an unreliable lift may prevent those less able from reaching their flat on the upper floors. Ensuring the right maintenance regime is in place and major works are planned for in advance are very important too. We are well placed to advise you about lifts in your building.
Question: Do you have a 24/7 emergency maintenance service?+
Yes. Outside of normal office hours, please call 020 7123 5158. For further details, please click here.
Question: What sort of network of suppliers do you have and how will this benefit us?+
Any managing agent is only as good as the people it employs within the company and also its network of external suppliers – solicitors, accountants, contractors, consultants etc. We have an unrivalled network of suppliers who understand the workings of the management of leasehold blocks of flats. From one man bands to larger firms like Masterfix, we have the bases covered. Please contact us for more details.
Question: I have lots of specific questions about my building and I would like to speak to someone about them. May I contact you?+
Yes of course – we would be delighted to assist with any queries you have. Please visit our Contact us section of the website by clicking here
Question: I own a share of the freehold of my building. Do I need to comply with the lease terms?+
Yes, you are both a long leaseholder and a freeholder. The lease for your flat and all the other flats must still be complied with, whether that is in relation to payment of service charges or major works that you may want to do in your flat. Please Contact us if you need further guidance.
Question: We have just bought our freehold through a collective enfranchisement process. We are going to choose a managing agent to manage our building. Who should manage the Company’s affairs?+
Your newly established Company owns the freehold of your building and like any other UK company, it needs to have directors, file annual returns, file annual statutory accounts, hold and minute Board meetings and AGMs, as well as a number of other tasks. Your accountant or solicitor may be willing to fulfil a company secretarial role and act as the Company’s registered office. We fulfil these roles for the vast majority of our RMC clients. See article entitled The Marriage after the Wedding for a helpful post-enfranchisement checklist.
Question: How can I have more influence over the running of my block?+
That depends on a number of factors, most relevant of which is the tenure of the building. If the building is an RMC, look to become a director of the Company and have your say on the Board. If the building is self-managed, get involved and ascertain if you feel a professional managing agent is needed. Perhaps you are one of many leaseholders, and the freeholder and their appointed managing agent call the shots. You and your fellow leaseholders could look to landlord and tenant legislation in order to replace the managing agent or seek the Right to Manage. Perhaps there is enough support in the block to pursue collective enfranchisement to buy the freehold. The scenarios are numerous so do contact us and we can give you some options to explore.