Sunday, 28 February 2016

Meanwhile, back at the Circumlocution Office

I think I have mentioned Mr Crawley's wish to inspect the surface of my balcony. This is because my downstairs neighbour, Mrs M, has damp in the wall below. This was inspected by Mr Brophy in July last year I know, the same day he came to inspect my flat. I presume the problem was reported much earlier.

The access to inspect is impeded by the fact that my balcony surface is decked and there is also a large (but not excessively large) flower pot.  Mr Crawley takes the view that these comprise a breach of the covenant in my lease requiring me "not to alter the external appearance of the flat in any way". I disagree with his interpretation, however, I am, as ever, endeavouring to be reasonable, and, at the start of negotiations, I told him that I was unable to physically move the items myself but that he was very welcome to remove/move whatever he wished to in order to inspect.

This was not good enough, of course. Mr Crawley required me to move the things myself.

Having arrive at this impasse, I think sometime in October last year, nothing happened for a very long time.

It was in fact me who revived the subject. It occurred to me, what with Wandsworth contractors due to come and fix the wall and roof, that they could remove the decking. It'd only take 15 minutes or so. A simple and reasonable suggestion, which I proposed to Mr Crawley.

He wrote on 25th Feb rejecting the idea. He said it might be possible but only if I were to pay for the work on a 'charge-back' basis.

This is my reply:

"Dear Mr Crawley,

I write further to your email of 25th February 2016 regarding the balcony inspection of [my flat].

In my email of 23rd February I made a simple and reasonable suggestion to facilitate your wish to inspect, i.e. I proposed that your on site contractors remove the decking, a very small job and, in the context of major works, involving no extra cost to anyone.

Somewhat predictably, you do not agree; you prefer to treat it as a huge big deal, one requiring the contractors to quote separately for 15 minutes' work, then for you to 're-charge' me. The associated paperwork would involve many more man-hours than the job itself.

There is also the question of liability. Forgive me if I do not accept your interpretation of the lease, but it is merely your personal and amateur opinion. You do not cite relevant case law nor any authority at all to indicate that a plant pot and a few planks of wood laid on top of a balcony surface comprise an alteration of the external appearance, any more than a person standing on the balcony comprises such an alteration in appearance.

Please note that I will not engage in any further, futile argument with you on this subject. If you wish to argue, then please instruct qualified solicitors to write to me and I will be happy to discuss it with them.

Alternatively, I've another suggestion. You can wait until I have my own builders on site, who will be here to carry out the work to remedy the interior disrepair.

However, I can't book builders until after you have completed the external repairs, which you say you "anticipate" (in your letter to my solicitors dated 23rd February) will be done by 22nd March. You would also have to coordinate the inspection together with any necessary balcony repair according to when my builders are on site, - which will be no more than 10 working days,  - because I want my builders to lay new decking and I am not prepared to wait months, or years, for you to carry out any necessary balcony repair first.

I'm sure Mrs M. [in the flat] below is equally keen for you to carry out the repairs as soon as possible, and not have to chase you over a period of six years as happened with the disrepair to her roof terrace.

In conclusion, please do not attempt to put forward any further opinions as to my alleged liability;  merely advise whether you wish to proceed with one of the two options I propose; either 1) your on site contractors do it, or 2) you wait for my builders, and you accept the restriction that you work within the timescale of my builders being on site. 

If you reject options 1) and 2) then the only option remaining to you is 3) instruct solicitors, - who will, I expect, advise you that the matter is 'de minimis' and to opt for 1) or 2).

Yours etc

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