base study: Resolving water ingress from a neighbouring flat
In early 2021, the London property market was a very different place compared to the present day. With the third national lockdown having started in January, the country (and the world) was still very much in a state of uncertainty and facing difficult times. People were leaving the capital in huge numbers, rents were low, and people didn’t want to move house unless they really had to. Sharer properties also suffered, as people were unwilling to move in with 2 or 3 other people if they were at risk of being locked down at home 24/7 in a crowded house.
This brings us to a 4-bed flat on our portfolio in Stepney, E1, which sat vacant on the market over Christmas 2020 even after multiple price reductions. During this vacant period, the property was repainted and reshot to ensure attractiveness on the market. We finally secured a tenancy to start in March 2021, much to the relief of the landlord.
Despite no advance signs or warnings during any of the viewing, painting or cleaning processes, on the day of the check-in, water ingress was spotted in the interior hallway in the form of a steady drip from the ceiling located by the bathroom. Not merely a staining of the paint (though this was happening and growing in size rapidly) there was actual liquid falling to the wooden floor. Not ideal for the start of a new tenancy…
As our managed flat (herein referred to as Lower Flat) is not on the top floor, and the leak was not by an exterior wall or window, this suggested that the leak was caused by an internal issue with the flat above (herein referred to as Upper Flat), with the water source more than likely being the plumbing of a bathroom above, given the logical assumption that the two apartments are similar in layout. After liaising with the tenants of Upper Flat, a quick investigation found that there was indeed a bathroom in the vicinity of the leak, and that several of the tiles within the shower cubicle were damaged and loose from their grouting, allowing water to run behind the tiling into the cavity behind and travel with gravity towards Lower Flat.
Finding the source of the leak was the straightforward part - next we had to work to resolve the problem. As Upper Flat was not one of our portfolio nor owned by our landlord of Lower Flat, we had very little control over the situation and instead needed to liaise with the actual leaseholder in order to work together to achieve the correct course of action. This is where the difficulties began, as they did not employ a managing agent and they themselves were uncommunicative and incredibly ‘hands-off’ landlords, something echoed by the experience of their tenants (who reported separately that their en-suite shower had been out of action for some time without resolution). Our report to their landlord was the first time they were made aware that the communal bathroom shower was not in full working order and in fact causing damage to the flat below, and yet they were slow on the uptake and seemed unwilling to cooperate fully to prevent further major damage and inconvenience to their, and our, tenants.
We offered to take on the logistical effort of getting the remedial works done, using the services of our preferred plumbing contractors and liaising with the tenants above for access, free of any additional management charge, in the best interest of our client. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just a simple job of replacing the tiles in the shower - our plumbers discovered that there was considerable water damage that had taken place over quite a long time, and there was a lot of rotten wood that needed replacing, including the joists below the floor. Before this could be quoted and authorised, they fitted a temporary waterproofing measure to prevent further damage in the meantime.
The only thing we needed from the leaseholder was their authorisation to proceed, as well as a deposit of money up-front in order to start the works (as it was their flat to maintain and therefore their money to pay for it, and we needed to protect both base and our plumbers against non-payment after the works were completed). The lack of communication was a real issue, but after much chasing and dozens of emails and attempted calls, we finally had half of the estimate paid as a deposit and the works were able to begin.
A twist to the tale:
After the works were complete, the shower was fixed and the leak no longer, we were able to send a contractor to our client’s Lower Flat and make good the water damage in the hallway. Both flats were now in good repair and all tenants were happy. The final hurdle was recouping full payment for the plumbers and completing the insurance claim. Sadly, as uncooperative as the leaseholder of Upper Flat had been thus far, after their flat was fixed what little communication they had previously been able to muster up all but vanished. Emails and calls to them from both base and our plumbers were being completely ignored. Even when the plumbers had to resort to applying pressure with the threat of taking them to court, there was still £300 outstanding that was not being paid.
In the end, our property manager did manage to complete an insurance claim on the buildings insurance for the damage and costs to our client’s flat, meaning that our client was not out of pocket. Dismayed by the lack of responsibility shown by the leaseholder of Upper Flat and unhappy to see the plumbers’ work not be entirely fulfilled, in an act of generosity our client settled the remainder of the bill with some of the insurance funds.
In an apartment block, some courses of action can be out of your control. Maintenance issues can spring up at any point, and if a problem with another property is affecting one you manage, you likely have no direct access to resolving it. Maintaining strong relationships with block managers, neighbours, and other leaseholders can lead you to a successful resolution, although this is not always an easy task without return cooperation. In such instances, continuous communication and pressure is our job in order to fulfil our obligations to our managed landlords in looking after their properties and their tenancies. This situation took far longer to resolve than we could have anticipated, but by staying on top of our duties and being persistent, we were able to conclude the matter with a happy client and happy tenants.