A HOUSING provider has issued legal proceedings against leaseholders of an Andover estate following a dispute over maintenance bills of up to £27,000 EACH.

Aster Group are taking Kingsway Gardens residents to tribunal to determine how to proceed with their intention to enter into a £4.5m maintenance contract at the cost of the homeowners.

In February the Advertiser reported that Aster, as the freeholder to Stuart, York, Tudor, Saxon, and Atholl Courts, had put the maintenance contract out to tender and had written to the leaseholders proposing to charge them up to £27,000 per flat to cover the costs.

The estimated sums were exclusive of VAT and a 15 per cent administration charge which would take the proposed sum of £27,000 up to the region of £37,000.

At the time, the housing organisation was intending to sign the contract with Stepnell Limited imminently and to begin deducting monies from leaseholders’ bank accounts in 12 monthly instalments from April.

The residents agree that works need to be carried out to solve ongoing problems with water ingress but it is the extent of the work that is disputed as Aster have failed to provide them with a copy of the 2014 survey that the project is based upon.

They also believe that much of the work only needs doing due to Aster’s historic neglect and have questioned what has happened to a sinking fund that they pay into as part of their service charges of between £800 and £1,100 per year.

Questions have also been raised about what the 15 per cent administration charge over £500,000 covers.

Despite leaseholders’ requests for meetings with Aster, the housing organisation has chosen to issue legal proceedings without entering into arbitration beforehand.

Explaining the decision, an Aster spokesperson, said: “The purpose of the legal application is to ensure complete transparency by having an independent and expert panel examine what we are doing and the charges we are proposing.

“The outcome of the tribunal will determine if the planned works are firstly necessary and reasonable and secondly if the estimated costs are reasonable and comparable to the work required.

“This gives homeowners a further opportunity to raise any queries they may have.

“The application to the tribunal provides a single forum for homeowners to challenge and raise any issues and is the most efficient and transparent way for us to proceed.

“The works have been assessed by independent property consultants and surveyors as being absolutely essential to maintain the buildings in the long term.

“Many properties have suffered from water penetration due to parts of the structure deteriorating and these works will, amongst other things, eradicate those issues.”

Aster say that they are happy to meet with residents to discuss issues but previous requests for meetings have not been forthcoming.

Since receiving the notice of tribunal the homeowners have set up a formal committee, Kingsway Gardens Leaseholders’ Association, which will be legally recognised in the tribunal.

On being issued with legal proceedings, chair of the association, Gary Rayner, said: “It is an unprecedented situation, Aster have never done this with any other group of people.

“We would be setting a precedent for future leaseholders.”

The association have since written to Aster requesting them to enter into formal arbitration.

Tudor Court resident and association committee member, Andy Middleton, said: “Along with the tribunal we are also embarking on the professional mediation route as Aster do not appear to want to listen to people with human emotion involved, which just serves to frustrate people more.

“We are trying to follow the correct path to gain a mutually agreeable outcome. “We just want our peaceful lives back, the fear, stress and sadness of the residents is so obvious and painful to witness. Our lives are on hold until the issues with Aster are resolved.”

Town councillor Andy Fitchet, who is supporting the leaseholders and has experience of living in a Kingsway Gardens property, said: “This ongoing saga being driven by Aster is getting increasingly frustrating for residents and leaseholders.

“Being taken to litigation to enable Aster to negate on their responsibilities as freeholder is, in my view, unacceptable.

“Aster have known about the issues at Kingsway Gardens for years, I raised it with them back in 2012 and they have simply ignored the issues and the complaints of residents.”

He added: “Should this case go any further, I hope the residents are recompensed and Aster are kept to their responsibilities as the freeholder to maintain the structure of these flats and make them liveable.”

MP for North West Hampshire, Kit Malthouse, and Councillor Phil North have also contacted Aster to raise numerous points with them but at the time of going to press had not received a response.