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Disgruntled residents used their legal right to replace their property management company

In Cawsand Fort Management Company v EM Stafford and Others (20.11.07), residents, unhappy with a management company's services, sought the appointment of a statutory manager to provide the services.

A group of 19th-century buildings known as 'the Fort' in Cornwall, which were grade II-listed and a scheduled ancient monument, were developed for residential purposes. Thirty homes were created in two phases around the inside of a curtain wall and a surrounding courtyard. All enjoyed access over common roads and footpaths, as well as use of amenity land for recreational purposes. The amenity land was not in the grounds of the buildings where the residents lived.

Since 2002, Cawsand Fort Management Company was the registered owner of the freehold interest in the Fort. There was an unfortunate history of bad feeling between Cawsand and the residents of the Fort.

Statute allows tenants in a multi-tenanted block of flats to apply to the leasehold valuation tribunal for the appointment of a manager if there is a dispute arising from the failed management of the building.

The tribunal can appoint a manager to carry out such functions in connection with the management of the building as it thinks fit. This can cover repair, maintenance and improvement of the building.

Several residents of the Fort who had long-leasehold interests applied to the tribunal for the appointment of a manager. Cawsand, which owned and was obliged to repair and maintain the amenity land, had not been active in carrying out its management obligations to the residents.

Cawsand did not, in principle, oppose the application to the tribunal and the dispute centered on the extent of the manager's powers. Should the powers be limited to the buildings inhabited by the residents and the grounds of those buildings, or should they also extend, for example, to the amenity land that was located away from the buildings?

The tribunal made an order to appoint a manager to undertake a scheme of management, which included the amenity land and other land owned by the company outside beyond the buildings themselves and their grounds. Cawsand appealed against the order, arguing that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to appoint a manager over property which was not part of the buildings where the residents lived or the grounds of those buildings.

The Court of Appeal rejected Cawsand's appeal. The practical purpose of the legislation is to protect the interest of tenants by enabling them to secure, through the appointment of a manager, the management functions they are entitled to enjoy in relation to the premises of which their flats are part.

The residents' use of the amenity land was held to 'relate to' the buildings where the residents lived and, therefore, the manager could be given powers in relation to that land. The manager's powers did not have to be limited to matters actually occurring at the buildings or their grounds.

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