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Leaseholder experience of extending a long lease with Lambeth as freeholder.

Rushy

AKA some / certain posters
Has anyone here had experience of extending a long lease with Lambeth as the freeholder? In particular with Lambeth council's Mr. Sathasivam Ragunathan?

Over the past couple of years I have been watching a friend dragged through a number of tribunal hearings whilst simply trying to extend the long lease on her small flat of which Lambeth is a freeholder. The professional valuers who calculated the initial valuation for my friend deal with London councils every day. This firm of professionals have said that they find councils to be largely cooperative and pragmatic; but that the behaviour of Mr Ragunathan and his Lambeth team has had more in common with some of the more ruthless private freeholders they come up against.

In the course of the first tribunal (required only after Lambeth reneged at the very last minute on a settlement offer, already significantly in their favour), the assessing panel was moved to ask Lambeth's team of 5 valuers, barristers and property professionals whether they were trying to reach a fair and reasonable price or just squeeze the unrepresented leaseholder for every penny they could get away with. Even after that clear rebuke, Lambeth still tried to push through their demands on a technicality, which the tribunal panel thankfully blocked on the basis that the leaseholder was not legally represented (as they had expected to accept the settlement offer, withdrawn only the day before). In the course of that hearing the tribunal had seen "without prejudice" correspondence from Lambeth council which showed Lambeth in a particularly poor light. Lambeth argued that the tribunal panel could have become biased in favour of the leaseholder as a result of having seen this embarrassing correspondence, and requested a fresh tribunal panel for subsequent hearings. This was granted.

The firm acting for my friend has been so incensed by the experience that they have since represented my friend for free. The council's aggressive behaviour also sparked the interest of a Queen's Counsel (very senior barrister) who has since also represented my friend for free. Without this free representation (which could have cost well in excess of £15,000) the leaseholder would not have been able to effectively challenge the council's valuation.

Lease extension valuations are notoriously complicated. In the course of investigating Lambeth's case, the team has since met others who have said that they felt that they had no option but to agree to Lambeth's valuations because they did not understand the process and could not afford professional representation to end the attrition. Lambeth has then been presenting those unchallenged settlements as comparables for their new valuations, bolstering their subsequent cases.

A Lambeth insider has said that Mr Ragunathan has a very particular approach in that he treats every leasehold extension as if it were a personal conflict. It seems to me that he uses council funds to "outgun" any challenges, as demonstrated by taking teams of five expensive professionals to challenge individual local residents he comes up against.

Given the Guardian's recent interest in councils providing terrible value to their leaseholders which cannot be challenged by the means available to other leaseholders - and their particularly stinging criticism of Lambeth - I'm thinking that it is worth collating some experiences relating to their leasehold extensions process. If you have any personal insights about this, please PM me.
 
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