Leasehold Victory on hold

by Mira Bar-hillel, Property Correspondent

Tens of Thousands of London flat owners in dispute with their landlords and managing agents will have to wait at least until the end of the year for the legal protection they were hoping to get next month.

The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill, which came in response to an Evening Standard campaign which exposed London's rogue landlords, would have given flat owners the right to take over the management of their blocks as well as making it easier to buy the freehold.

However, it failed to finish its passage through Parliament at the very last hurdle and will have to be re-introduced in the next Parliament.

Labour and the Conservatives are now blaming each other for the expected delay of the Bill, which all parties claim to support. Tory spokesman Nigel Waterson, who has many leaseholders in his East-bourne constituency, accused the Government of introducing the Bill late in the day.

"They have no one but themselves to blame for their failure to introduce this measure in sufficient time for it to reach the statute book before the General Election," he said.

However, Housing Minister Nick Raynsford dismissed this as "silly". He said the Bill had been out to consultation twice since 1998, with more than 1,000 people responding each time. "To accuse us of delay is absolute nonsense, coming from a party which itself wasted precious time on dozens of silly amendments during the committee stage," he said.

After the initial consultation in 1998, a draft Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill was published in August 2000, and reintroduced in the House of Lords in December after being mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Second Reading was at the end of January. Most of the delays occurred during the Lords Committee, which took five days spread over four weeks. A two-week period in early March was lost because the shadow lord chancellor, Lord Kingsland, had other commitments.

Lord Kingsland was also responsible for 126 amendments to the leasehold part of the Bill, including 30 amendments to substitute "an" for "a". Many of his other proposed amendments would have limited the rights of leaseholders to manage or buy their freeholds, and were rejected by the Government.

At report stage Lord Kingsland put down 91 similar amendments. The Bill then ran out of time. In the final days of this Parliament, the Opposition could have helped London's million leaseholders by agreeing to allow the Bill through by negotiation. In 1987, when Mr Raynsford was in Opposition, he helped an earlier leasehold reform Bill to pass into law when it similarly ran out of time.

However, while claiming to be the leaseholders' friends, the Conservatives refused to co-operate claiming the Bill had been "rushed through".

Even shadow chancellor Michael Portillo, who fought his Kensington by-election 18 months ago on a platform of helping leaseholders, refused to use his considerable influence in this matter. There is no mention of leasehold in the Tory election manifesto.

Associated Newspapers Ltd., 14 May 2001