Published: 17:20, 30 November 2018
| Updated: 19:33, 30 November 2018
Buyers of new-build homes on a Canterbury housing estate face "outrageous" service charges in excess of £1,000 a year.
A two-bedroom flat on the Royal Parade development off Littlebourne Road comes with annual maintenance fees of £1,190 under a leasehold deal, while prospective owners of a four-bedroom house must find £900 a year.
Developer Taylor Wimpey says the costs are for upkeep of green spaces on the former Howe Barracks site, such as an 11-acre area of communal parkland and residents' front gardens.
But campaigners say these "estate charges" are unfair and, with no guarantee they will not escalate, also risk making the homes unsellable in future.
The fees are payable on all 171 homes being built during the development's first phase, including shared ownership and social rent properties classed as affordable housing - bringing in a total of about £130,000 a year.
BT worker Keith Hince became a member of the National Leasehold Campaign after finding out his flat in Invicta Close, by the Spitfire St Lawrence Cricket Ground, was subject to onerous ground rent charges.
He warns potential buyers to be wary of maintenance fees, saying: “I don’t agree with any of these service charges at all.
“Those people are all paying their council tax. They don’t get a reduction, and they have got to pay to manage the estate as well.
"It’s outrageous and it shouldn’t be allowed.
“It’s just an income stream for developers.
"The sales staff sell it by saying they will look after your garden for you, but they can put these fees up to what they like, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.”
Taylor Wimpey, one of the country's biggest housebuilders, was forced to pay out £130 million last year after being heavily criticised for leasehold deals under which homeowners were locked into paying ground rents which doubled every 10 years.
Although houses at the Royal Parade are being sold as freehold, Mr Hince says the estate charges amount to "fleeceholds" in a different guise.
“They can’t get away with leaseholds any more, so they have been coming up with these schemes so they can get money from prospective buyers. It’s a major, major issue,” he continued.
“There’s plenty of estates in Canterbury where you don’t pay anything. Why should this be any different?
“Until you look into it, you don’t realise how much the charges are.
"Many of these homes are being bought by first-time buyers under Help to Buy.
“Do they realise what they’re letting themselves in for?”
Cathy Priestly, co-ordinator of the Homeowners’ Rights Network, says estate fees are a problem across the UK and should be regulated.
"Those people are all paying their council tax... they don't get a reduction, and they have got to pay to manage the estate as well" - Keith Hince
“No residential estate charge is fair,” she said.
“Homebuyers are being forced via old laws and clauses in their deeds to pay an uncapped and unregulated charge for maintaining estate land and facilities.
"Developers save huge sums of money by doing this and the homebuyers pick up the tab in perpetuity.
“Larger green spaces are often designated for public access and so the homebuyers end up subsidising a local amenity.
“The actual charges vary enormously, but the services provided for the money are poor.
“The managing agents who take over when the builders have finished exploit the lack of accountability and regulation.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg - we estimate 1.3 million households are affected by this, and the numbers are growing all the time.”
Other housing developments in the district known to charge such fees include Redrow’s Wentworth Park on the former Herne Bay Golf Club site, which are approximately £316 a year.
At Aylesham Village - a Barratt Homes development - homeowners pay £99.50 annually for services including ground maintenance, electrical repairs and public liability insurance.
A spokesman for Taylor Wimpey defended the fees charged at Royal Parade.
They said: “The service charge covers things such as the maintenance of green areas of the development, including gardens, rubbish picking and emptying dog waste bins.
"Service charges for the apartment owners are higher and, in addition to the things already mentioned, also include the cleaning of communal areas and general maintenance of the block.
“Front gardens are maintained by a management company in order that the development is well-presented at all times.”
Meanwhile, an MP is taking the fight against unfair estate charges to the House of Commons.
A Freehold Properties (Management and Shared Facilities) Bill has been put forward by Helen Goodman MP, who says the phenomenon amounts to a new "cash-cow" for private developers in the wake of the ground rents scandal.
The bill, which has the backing of the Home Owners Rights Network, also known as Hornets, would bring spiralling maintenance fees under control by introducing a cap.
It also includes measures to ensure shared facilities are maintained to an adequate standard and make it easier for residents to self-manage communal areas.
Having passed as a Ten Minute Rule Bill on November 14, it will have its second reading in January next year.