Residents in flats at Ramsgate’s Royal Crescent buildings say they are in shock after discovering they are likely to face repair bills from Thanet District Council (TDC) of some £200,000 each.
Residents were told of the extraordinary costs in a letter sent to them by the council last week. This stated that leaseholders in one block will face estimated bills of between £177,000 and £217,000 while those in the second property will fork out between £94,000 and £164,000.. The residents say it was only when they scrutinised the details more closely that it became clear that this amount was not for the whole block, but for each property.
The council owns two parts of the Grade II listed property in St Augustine’s Road, from numbers 4-15 and 19-23.
These are divided into 16 and six flats respectively, of which 12 are tenanted -so will not be billed – and 10 sold as leasehold, under the right-to-buy legislation.
It is leaseholders who face paying a share of a huge £2.778million repair bill across the two sites. This means three properties will be due to pay up in numbers 19-23 and seven in 4-15.
Three phase plan
Thanet council says it needs to carry out essential structural works and passive fire works to both buildings.
Due to the age, heritage value, risk and complexity of the property, the delivery of the programme will span over three to four years and the council has appointed specialist consultants in the lead up to putting the job out to tender.
A document to council Cabinet members, who will discuss the issue tomorrow (April 29) says the current pre-tender cost projection for the whole project is £2.778m.
This cost breaks down as:
Phase 1 (2021-22 and 2022-23): £2.023m
Phase 2 (2023/24): £235k
Phase 3 (2023/24): £520k
Phase 1 will include structural repairs, water tightness and passive fire measures to the main structures, refurbishment as necessary of the roofs and downpipes, repairs/refurbishment of the doors and windows, balconies and external decorations.
The document says: “These works are considered to be essential, these will address current health and safety risks posed to the residents as the balconies are currently unstable and are supported by scaffolding.”
Phase 2 works are also considered to be essential, although less urgent, and will include extensive repairs and modifications to boundary walls, structural elements of the basements and courtyard areas.
Proposed phase 3 works are considered to be optional. This will include a review for future uses of the basement areas, such as repairs and improvements to the shared areas or closing the basements off, with only essential repairs completed.
Costs to leaseholders
Cabinet members are asked to approve funding for the repairs and are told that the council will “recharge legitimate costs to leaseholders.”
The report says the leaseholders will “become liable for substantial contributions to the costs,” adding that these could be as high as “£177k to £217k for the block at 19-23 Royal Crescent and £94k to £164k for the block at 4-15 Royal Crescent.”
In normal circumstances these costs would be invoiced to leaseholders during the financial year following the completion of the works. However the large amounts involved mean a lump sum payment is not realistic.
Instead Thanet council is proposing that leaseholders pay off the bill in instalments across a number of years with a voluntary legal charge registered against the property or have a legal charge registered against the property, requiring repayment in the event of the flat being sold.
A consultation with residents at the properties will be carried out regarding the repair contracts.
‘Left with nothing’
But leaseholders say the repair bills are almost as much as the flats are worth, rendering any plan to sell impossible.
Leaseholder Jeremy Millar, who has lived at his flat for more than five years, said: “It looks like the council is trying to make it easier for us but the charge would mean we can’t sell anyway.
“The idea that this is feasible is not fair on us as individuals but also for Ramsgate residents because that money is not going to be paid back when it means we can’t sell and that means the council is saddled with the debt.”
Another leaseholder added: “For years I wanted a dream home by the sea, and the council’s actions would now make it effectively worthless. I’d be left with nothing.”
Jeremy says the initial letter was badly written, making it hard to understand the amounts involved and providing no clarity on the scope of the works or how such an astronomical cost had been reached.
The university lecturer said leaseholders were also dumbfounded at the way they have been told, just days before the council meeting where a decision is due to be made.
Jeremy said: “This is a really life-changing amount and there really should have been more care about how we were treated. It has been a really tough year for everyone and this letter could be a tipping point, it is such a shock. There should be a process in place to do these things properly and we are not sure it has been. I would hope the council would be a little more thoughtful and considerate in the future.”
Jeremy says although residents do not dispute work needs to take place, and in fact have been asking for repairs to be carried out for several years now, they are bewildered at how such a large cost has been reached. He added: “The level is extraordinary, it is the cost of a rebuild not repairs.”
The residents have now formed the Royal Crescent Action Group to oppose the scheme and to ensure that they receive fair treatment.
They have also gathered support from ward councillors, who will be questioning if such expense is justifiable at the present time.
If councillors agree the proposal the action group says it will “leave many people financially ruined.”
Worst case scenario
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “The report going to Cabinet for decision is to enter into a new contract of essential structural works in two buildings within the historic Royal Crescent, Ramsgate.
“The report states that if repair works are not carried out, the building will deteriorate which will impact on the conditions of the flats and their value. The costs presented in the report are estimated and represent the worst case scenario but the fact that these regency buildings are of significant heritage value and Grade II listed does have an impact.
“We understand that the costs are high and this is why there is the offer for leaseholders to accept a charge against their property so that they do not have to pay anything unless they sell. There will also be a consultation process with leaseholders, known as a Section 20 consultation. In addition, the report makes provision for the council to write off these amounts if there is insufficient equity or other funds and payment would cause financial hardship.”
Thanet council says every leaseholder would receive personalised estimates in advance and then actual accounts the year after works are completed with actual costs.
The meeting takes place at 5.30pm.