When a rental property is contained in an apartment block or housing development, either the tenant or the landlord may be expected to pay an annual service charge. This charge will usually cover maintenance and repair work in communal areas.
Paying a service charge
Check your tenancy agreement and your rent book carefully. If you are expected to pay a service charge, the landlord or agent should have included a clause relating to this payment. If there is no reference to additional service charges, you may be able to dispute your liability to pay.
If you live in a block of residential flats or a housing development, ask your landlord about service charges. Even if your landlord is responsible for paying these, you should ask to see a copy of the service charge agreement so you know what work the building manager is supposed to carry out and you know who you should report problems to.
If your tenancy agreement states that you are liable for service charges, you should make sure that you have a copy of the contract between your landlord and the building manager. This contract should specify whether the charge is a fixed fee or a percentage charge, the monetary value of which can change from year to year. The contract should also include a list of services which the building manager is expected to provide in return for payment of the charge.
When you make a payment, ask the manager to provide you with a receipt. Although contracts vary from building to building, The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has published guidelines which suggest best practice for building managers in operating service charges. You should receive an annual statement which shows the payments you have made.
Services covered by charge
The services that are provided by a building manager will differ depending on the service contract. Usually, you can expect your service charge to pay for the following items:
- cleaning and maintenance of communal areas
- maintenance of any communal gardens
- regularly servicing lifts in the buildings
- upkeep of any communal heating systems
- carrying out repairs in communal areas.
Building manager's responsibilities
If you live in a managed building, make sure you have contact details for the building manager. The building manager will usually be responsible for
- collecting service charges
- arranging for the recovery of unpaid charges
- preparing, submitting and circulating service charge statements to tenants
- ensuring that funds are used correctly
- engaging and supervising maintenance staff
- arranging and managing for annual safety or service checks
- ensuring the building complies with all relevant fire safety and health & safety legislation
- making sure that all insurance on the building is up to date
- communicating with tenants in the building
- responding to any tenant enquiries.
In Northern Ireland, there is not currently any legislation that relates specifically to service charges and block management issues. The terms contained in these agreements vary from contract to contract.
If you are concerned that services which are included in your contract are not being carried out, you should speak to your own landlord first. If you are unhappy with the terms of a contract, you should speak to a solicitor and get legal advice.