Sharing the cost of being a tenant and I can’t open my new front door

Your property queries answered

Doors historically are problematic due to the requirement to give access or egress whilst providing security and weather protection. Photograph: Thinkstock

Doors historically are problematic due to the requirement to give access or egress whilst providing security and weather protection. Photograph: Thinkstock

Thu, May 8, 2014, 00:00

Q I am trying to sort out a problem on behalf of my mother-in-law, who lives in the bottom flat in a house that consists of three flats. In 2005 the top flat was sold and as the sale was going through, work had already started to replace a malfunctioning sewage system by the installation of a pump to ensure that sewage from the upper flats could be pumped down to where it meets the mains. The seller in 2005 reduced the price of the property and the buyer agreed to share payments for the cost of electricity involved in pumping the water and sewage (monitored by a meter that is on my mother-in-law’s property) with the bottom and middle flats. The middle flat pays a standing order of €35 a month, but the top flat has never paid anything.

The top flat was put on the market last year and is “sale agreed”. I have been trying to get them to pass on information about this issue to the buyer and their solicitor, but there appears to be procrastination. After weeks of mails the only contact I have had is from a secretary as the named estate agents dealing with the case have failed to answer my mails, which suggest that a management company will have to be formed that agrees to the three-way split of these costs (which currently appear on my mother-in-law’s electricity bill) or that a separate metering system will have to be sorted at a cost to each of the three owners.

My mother-in-law is owed, according to readings taken by her and the middle flat owner, something in the order of €2,500. She is 89, a widow and is despairing of this situation, where leading estate agents and solicitors ignore the implications for her. Every month €35 of hers goes towards subsidising the costs of the owners of a much bigger south Dublin bay trophy flat.

I would be grateful for any suggestions in how to involve estate agents and solicitors in this discussion. (I note that the code of conduct for estate agents produced by the Property Services Regulatory Authority, specifically refers to a need to inform buyers about management committee issues) Also do you know of any solutions to the sharing of costs by flats in a situation like this – perhaps by the installation of individual meters . As far as I can see, while this situation exists, these three flats are unsaleable and the top flat will only be sold because the estate agent is withholding this information.

A Having read your synopsis of the issues as outlined this is a truly complicated matter.

I assume that in 2005 when the top flat was sold that there wasn’t a management company in place but rather an informal structure between the three property owners. Given that the sale of the top flat in 2005 was in a rising market, it seems clear the price reduction was to facilitate the work required and the purchaser and their solicitor were aware of this issue. The fact that the property has now transferred to a family member of the then purchaser is largely irrelevant given that it is unlikely to be an arm’s length transaction and the new owner of this property would or should have been aware of the issues in 2005.

I note that you have made numerous attempts to contact the agent involved in the current sale and very simply it appears that they are ignoring you. It is regrettable and has shown a lack of courtesy to you. It may be however, that they have informed their client of your approach and their client has specifically instructed them not to engage further. I do not see this as an acceptable reason not to engage directly with you.

It would be my opinion that your mother in law should engage her solicitor to write to the selling agent specifically outlining the issues within the development and noting that these issues should be brought to the attention of the purchaser. If you are aware of the solicitor acting for the vendor, they should also be contacted in this manner.

It does however, seem unlikely that a sale will actually proceed given that there would appear that there isn’t a formal management company in place and with a range of issues concerning the development, it is unlikely that the purchasing solicitor will advise a purchaser to proceed with a sale. Likewise a bank is unlikely to provide funding for the purchase of the property under these circumstances.

Therefore, I would suggest that a management structure within the development is formalised. This is in the interest of all three property owners and whilst there will be costs incurred such as filing accounts for a management company and fees to a management agent (should you wish to engage in the services of one), it will ultimately be in the property development’s best interest that the management company structure is formalised.

With regard to the arrears in order of €2,500, this is a matter for your solicitor to recover. I would suggest that all documentation relating to the original agreement is sent to them, they will be able to advise on the appropriate means of recovery.

I hope that this matter is resolved as it appears to be distressing for all concerned.

John O’Sullivan is a chartered surveyor and estate agent and sits on the residential agency professional group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

Q After a lot of research I bought a composite front door from a reputable door company and they fitted it.

In the beginning my (adult) children found it very difficult to open the door but I thought they just weren’t used to a door with a handle (you need two hands to pull the door towards you and then try to turn the key to open it). As the weeks passed however, I found it increasingly hard to open the door myself as the weight seems to be misplaced so the handle can’t function correctly.

The after care service was very good insofar as they sent a fitter out to look at the door. He had no problem opening the door. He tightened the door by tightening the levers and said that I would not have any further problems. If anything, this only made the door worse.

I called the company again and they sent another person out who couldn’t find any fault. I think he thought I was making it up. He decided it may be the handle and has ordered me a new one, although he could see no problem with the door. I am now waiting for the handle which I feel was a token gesture by the company. I am still having great difficulty getting into my home. We try to have someone at home at all times so that we can get in. On two occasions my son had to sit for hours waiting for someone to help him get in. We now have to bring our back door keys out which means leaving our side gate unsecured which is not ideal. Have you any ideas? I spent a lot of money on this door.

A Clearly you have done your research into the door and now have the conundrum that it appears not to work. It is not my place to look at the legal angle of your purchase and you have not described the procurement process so I will try to examine exactly what might have physically gone wrong.

Doors historically are problematic due to the requirement to give access or egress whilst providing security and weather protection. Increasingly sophisticated answers to these problems have come about as technology provides better materials and manufacturing possibilities.

A composite door implies a number of materials coming together to fulfil different functions in one unit, generally modern composite doors employ an advanced plastic covering over a lightweight insulating core, sometimes reinforcement is also introduced to augment security or stability of the door itself so as to overcome the dimensional changes that plastics can be prone to under changing weather conditions. In short, the leaf of the door itself should be engineered to maintain very good tolerances and so it is unlikely this is the root of your problem.

The other elements that go to creating an operable and secure unit are: the opening in the wall itself, the frame to carry and seal the door and the ironmongery to work it, such as hinges, handles and locking mechanisms.

If the basic opening in the wall is out of square or plumb or not prepared properly then the installers may have struggled to align the new unit and frame if it was not initially measured properly, this may have caused the unit itself to be under stress thereby causing sticking. You can check this yourself by looking at the gaps all around both door to frame and frame to wall – they should all be parallel without signs of warping.

The frame may not be compatible with the door leaf, this might be due to a delivery or selection problem from suppliers and can cause the seals to bind the door or overstress the ironmongery. It’s hard to check this one but there may be manufacturer’s marks or obvious signs that the two parts are not designed to fit together.

The hinges may not be adequate for the weight of the door, or be inadequately screwed to either the frame or the opening thereby allowing movement as the door leaf swings, you can check this by watching the hinges as the door opens, any disproportionate movement will cause binding or sticking that may get worse through time.

The locking mechanism and handle may not be compatible with the pre-formed slots and sockets in either the door or the frame, again this can cause stiffness and can be seen by obvious scoring marks on the meeting surfaces.

Getting independent inspection of your door will be crucial to resolving how you proceed, contact your local Chartered Building Surveyor to inspect the installation, or the Associated Locksmiths of Ireland may be able to help you.

If the company is as you say “reputable” then they should have no difficulty in resolving your problem, tell them that you intend seeking independent professional advice and give them adequate time to respond, before doing so, advise them they may be liable for any costs incurred in getting satisfaction.

Fergus Merriman is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

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Property Clinic,
The Irish Times,
24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2.
This column is a readers’ service.
Advice given is general and individual
advice should always be sought

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