Rising service charges, renovating from abroad and boundary responsibilities
The good management of a multi-unit development includes excellent communication with members, procuring service providers that give value for money and dealing with issues promptly
Q I have had a 30 per cent increase in my service charge, mainly, it appears, to cover non-payment by other home owners. I was wondering is it legal to expect paying members to cover non-paying members? I believe it is not my responsibility to cover these costs and it is up to the management company, if needs be, to take legal action against non-payment.
A An owners management company (OMC) and its members are bound to each other by a lease agreement which stipulates the terms of the relationship. Part of the members’ contractual obligations is to pay a service charge to the OMC for services. Failure to do so is a breach of contract.
Section 18 (2) of the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 prescribes that a budget shall not be levied unless it has been considered by the voting members of the OMC. Should the budget include a provision for bad debtors and is agreed by the members at a general meeting then the issue is binding and will stand.
It is important for the OMC to facilitate members with payment plans if they are experiencing solvency issues which is subject to the lease agreement and members’ approval. This is a rational practice drawn up in recognition of the continuing problems home owners and investors face.
There is a general consensus among all concerned in multi-unit development living that non-payment of service charges is a very real threat which is inadequately provisioned for under the current legal system. It is expensive to recover debts through the legal process and can take some time. Having said this, the OMC must pursue bad debtors legally when all other avenues fail to render payment.
The good management of a multi-unit development includes excellent communication with members, procuring service providers that give value for money and dealing with issues promptly. The reciprocation to this is for members to attend general meetings, participate and take ownership in the management of the estate and pay service charges. This collaboration is the cornerstone for a successful multi-unit development.
Q We moved abroad six months ago and are keen to buy a property in the west of Ireland to have as a base in Ireland. We are looking at the moment at a house which was built in the early 1970s. It would need a lot of work, such as insulating and a new heating system, as well as redesigning the whole interior (ie gutting the inside and installing new bathrooms and a new kitchen). I am looking for your advice on how we can best do this without living in Ireland and also within a budget.
A Buying and renovating a new house can be a very stressful process – especially if one is doing it remotely – so it is important to select the right person with the appropriate professional qualifications. He or she will ensure that much of the process can be carried out without the need for your attendance, with regular contact to give you full control and peace of mind at every stage. Early agreement on how the decision and a reporting process takes place will enable you to schedule visits and events with your adviser in advance.
Because this is an older property with a quantity of refurbishment work proposed, the best advice is to get in touch with a local building surveyor. They will be able to provide a comprehensive “building survey” which will schedule all aspects of the property that may need to be addressed to optimally preserve or enhance your investment, and you should also request a feasibility study so that budgets for each element to repair, alter and extend can be set and fees can be agreed at an early stage.
The next step will be a measured survey of the property with the resulting drawings forming the basis for proposals towards the design you require and will also advise if any other professionals, such as structural engineer, might be needed.
When the proposals and budget are finalised, all the detailed information required under the new Building Control Act can be assembled and appointment of your “assigned certifier” to ensure compliance with Building Regulations will be decided.
Your building surveyor will be able to assist you in the tendering process. On completion of the works, all services will be commissioned, the final account will be agreed and a defects schedule prepared and acted upon to ensure quality and fitness for purpose.
Finally, certificates of compliance will have to be lodged with the local authority for your new Irish home.
Fergus Merriman is a chartered building surveyor and member of SCSI, scsi.ie
Q I have just finished building my home and I recently heard that it was my responsibility to look after the boundary between the house on the right hand side of me, and that my neighbour is responsible for the boundary on the right hand side of him. Is this true? Does this practice have legal standing in Ireland or is it just good practice? Or is the responsibility for the boundary split 50/50 between both parties?
A Responsibility for physical boundaries such as hedges, walls, post and wire fences generally depends on which side of the legal boundary they are located. The legal boundary is defined by the deed map.
Physical boundaries such as concrete block walls are frequently constructed on the legal boundary so that half of the wall is located on each property. It is then a party wall with shared responsibility.
In other instances, physical boundaries are located to one side of the legal boundary. This is more likely to be the case with hedges, in particular if they have been planted alongside a wall or railing which was positioned on the legal boundary. As stated, the location determines responsibility.
However, as appears to be the situation in your case, there may be an informal arrangement or convention whereby neighbours agree to accept responsibility for the boundary to one side of their garden/property, irrespective of which side of it the legal boundary is located. Although it does not usually have a legal basis, it is good practice provided that everyone acts responsibly, for instance, in controlling the height of a hedge for which they are responsible.
If you decide to maintain your boundaries strictly in accordance with your ownership as defined by your deed map, it may result in your neighbour having to take full responsibility for the boundaries on both sides of his property or, alternatively, not having responsibility for any boundary. Your neighbour on the other side may be likewise affected.
As the new owner of a house, it is desirable that you have a good relationship with your neighbours. Your concern over boundary responsibilities may be interpreted as indifference to established practices.
It may be advisable that you consider following the practice already established by your neighbours – especially if it is seen to work.
Patrick Shine is a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie
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