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Your rights when things go wrong at home – from service charges to dodgy freeholds

James Walker, from Resolver. Picture: Supplied

James Walker, from Resolver. Picture: Supplied

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I was taking part in a TV programme recently about dodgy builders and it got me thinking about how important our homes are to us – and our rights when things go wrong.

Service charge hikes and dodgy freeholds are just some of the pitfalls of home ownership, writes James Walker of Resolver. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.Service charge hikes and dodgy freeholds are just some of the pitfalls of home ownership, writes James Walker of Resolver. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

At Resolver, I’ve seen an increase in complaints about newbuild properties, from cracks and mould to more serious structural issues.

Some of these problems can go on for years and have caused significant distress.

According to the Homeowners Alliance, over a third of people who bought a new property reported over 10 problems to the builder. That’s far too high a figure as far as I’m concerned.

I’m also hearing much more about service charges and dodgy freeholders. Service charges – fees you pay collectively with other tenants or residents for services like cleaning or gardening – can be a nightmare.

I’ve heard horror stories of some leaseholders or tenants being hit with huge increases in service charges by property companies. A few even moved because of them.

If you’ve got a problem with a service charge hike, have a meeting with all your neighbours – there is strength in numbers.

With enough support you may be able to form a management association to take over the management of the property, even if you’re a council or housing association tenant.

A word of warning though – this can sometimes result in quite a bit of stress. Neighbours don’t always agree or get on, so make sure you’ve got the time and temperament to deal with the work involved.

You can also get help with these issues by going to the Property Tribunal through HM Courts and Tribunals Service if you’re getting nowhere.

It goes without saying that homeowners should always invest in a comprehensive building insurance policy.

At this time of year, the impact of the cold weather can result in all sorts of damage to the structure of your property, from tiles on the roof to walls and fences falling down.

One of the biggest problems I see with building insurance claims involves ‘wear and tear’ – where insurers argue the damage is not weather-related but as a result of maintenance.

You can avoid this problem by checking in with the insurer every year just to make sure you’re meeting the policy terms and conditions – it will save you a packet.

Landlord and tenant disputes are among the most common problems I’m asked to help with.

In simple terms, if you’re unhappy, write a letter to your landlord setting out the dispute. Speak to your local council if you’re not sure about your rights.

If that doesn’t work, the council should have details of the next stage, after which there’s a free housing ombudsman service too.

Finally, there’s the mortgage itself. With interest rate rises on the horizon, it’s likely that thousands – even millions – of people will find that they are struggling to make ends meet.

If you’re worried about affordability, it’s really important you talk to the mortgage company now. They can talk through your options but as always, it pays to be realistic.

You mortgage company might give you a month or two payment break on payments or refund some charges or interest, but they won’t do this indefinitely.

Watch out for ‘advice’ on the internet about non-enforceability of mortgage contracts and other seemingly easy ways to get out of paying the mortgage. They usually quote obscure bits of legalese or fake testimonials. They’re all rubbish!

Any lender that rushes to repossess after you’ve asked for help is in trouble – but it’s best to avoid that situation wherever possible if you can. And if they ignore you, Resolver can help you get some justice!

• James Walker is the founder of Resolver.co.uk

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