Belinda Bagnall, Managing Director of Residentsline, gives an insight into overcoming the challenges of major works in your block of flats.

Carrying out substantial works on or in blocks of flats for the purposes of essential maintenance, large-scale improvements or safety compliance can be a complicated and time-consuming task.

Following the right procedures according to the lease and the section 20 consultation should ensure the avoidance of any legal challenges, and sticking to best practise in the planning stages should avoid any other issues arising. Here we’ll walk you through ‘best practise’ and give you some tips for nipping issues in the bud.

Legal Requirements

If the necessary works will cost each leaseholder more than £250, then the section 20 consultation procedure must be followed to ensure that leaseholders are properly consulted. It consists of three stages:
  • Notice of Intention: This notice must detail the proposed works and the reasons behind them, inviting leaseholders to submit their responses within a specified timeframe.
  • Obtaining Estimates: Once the timeframe has elapsed, you must provide leaseholders with at least two estimates for the proposed works. These estimates should come from different contractors and be sent to the leaseholders along with a summary of the responses received following the notice of intention. Leaseholders should then be given another opportunity to submit their comments.
  • Notice of Reasons: After considering the estimates and the observations of leaseholders, you must provide a “Notice of Reasons” that includes details of the chosen contractor, the costs involved, and any other relevant information. Leaseholders have the right to seek further information and potentially challenge the choice of contractor or the costs.
A common misconception among landlords is that, by following this procedure, you are then able to demand the costs from the leaseholders upfront, ahead of the works being carried out.

This is actually only allowed if the lease says so.

Many leases state that the service charge is to be demanded in arrears and is only payable once the works have been carried out- in which case you need to be absolutely clear as to who is responsible for the major works and how they will be funded. Many leases, however, contain a clause that allows for one-off demands to be made for emergency works. If you’re in any doubt, seek appropriate legal advice. If your lease allows for a reserve fund but there is currently no savings pot in place, this should be rectified as soon as possible. Good practice would be to contact all leaseholders ahead of raising any demands, explaining why you’re raising a reserve fund, how it will help with covering the costs of major works in the future and quoting the clause in the lease that allows for it.

Best Practise for the Planning Stages

Most challenges can be predicted and therefore overcome during the planning stages. A generally proactive and strategic approach will also help to avoid any emergency works becoming necessary. Having a planned maintenance program in place will keep you one step ahead of the game, but here are our tips for handling major works once they roll around:

Thorough Planning

  • Conduct thorough inspections to assess the extent of the work needed at the block and potential issues that might arise.
  • Identify the scope of the works and create a detailed project plan, breaking down the tasks, timelines, and required resources.
  • Allocate budgets and resources appropriately, considering both direct costs (materials, labour) and indirect costs (permits, administrative expenses).

Reliable Contractor Choices

  • Choose experienced and reputable contractors who have a proven track record in handling similar projects and that understand the complexities of working on blocks of flats or apartments.
  • Obtain multiple quotes to ensure competitive pricing but prioritise quality and reliability over the lowest cost.

Clear Communication

  • Maintain open and transparent communication with all stakeholders about potential disruptions and expected timelines.
  • Provide regular updates on the progress of the project and highlight any schedule changes.

Minimise Disruptions

  • Plan the works with disruption to tenants and residents in mind. For example, scheduling noisy or disruptive tasks during off-peak hours.
  • Consider setting up alternative access routes around the block if common areas are affected by the works.
  • Anticipate potential challenges and have contingency plans in place. Unforeseen issues might arise, and having a backup plan can prevent major disruptions.

Obtain Necessary Approvals

  • Ensure you have obtained all the necessary permits and approvals from local authorities before commencing the works. Failure to do so can lead to delays and legal issues.

Quality Control

  • Implement a rigorous quality control process to ensure that the works meet established standards.
  • Regular inspections and progress checks can help identify and address any issues early on.

Document Everything

  • Maintain thorough documentation of all aspects of the project including contracts, communication, schedules, and any changes made.
  • This documentation can be valuable in case of disputes or for future reference.

Post-Project Review

  • After the major works are completed, conduct a post-project review to assess what went well and what could be improved. This can help with refining your approach for future projects.
Remember that each block of flats and major works project will have unique challenges, so foresight, flexibility and adaptability are key. By applying these strategies, property managers can navigate the challenges of major works more effectively and ensure successful outcomes. To read more from Residentsline, please click here. Alternatively, click here to find more from Flat Living. Head to the Residentsline website for information on all of our products and services or, if you’d like to speak to one of our fantastic, specialist team, give us a call on 0800 281 235.