The Upper Chamber Lands Tribunal recently considered whether in determining if costs have been reasonably incurred account should be taken of the financial impact on tenants and whether major works should be phased (Garside and others v. RYFC Ltd and others  UKUT 367). The case involved an estate of 5 blocks with 54 flats which as a result of historical neglect had a manager appointed by the LVT after an application by some of the leaseholders.
The Manager appointed set about arranging for outstanding works to be carried out. However a number of the leaseholders became concerned as to their ability to pay due to the significant increase in service charges these works would cause.
The leaseholders agreed that the scope of works was acceptable but queried whether it was necessary to carry out the bulk of the works at once. They suggested that the works should be phased to spread the costs over a longer period. The costs were likely to be in the year 2010 £7,600 or more and it was said that some Leaseholders would be forced to sell their flats.
The LVT rejected the argument that consideration should be given to the individual leaseholders ability to pay in determining the reasonableness of the costs. The LVT determined given there was no argument over the reasonableness of the costs, the specification or the ability of the Manager to recover the costs in advance and therefore in the LVTs opinion section 19 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 only related to the reasonableness of the works and costs and not the ability of the leaseholders to pay.
The leaseholders appealed to the Upper Chamber Lands Tribunal. HHJ Robinson determined that the 1985 Act did not limit what is reasonable. In her opinion “reasonable” should be given a broad meaning in accordance with Ashworth Frazer v. Gloucester City Council  1 WLR 2180. Thus in her opinion the financial impact and whether works could and should be phased was a material consideration in determining whether costs have been reasonably incurred under section 19 of the 1985 Act.
The Judge said that a wide consideration had to be given of all the issues including the urgency of the works. These were all matters of fact and judgment for the LVT to determine. She did emphasis that the LVT could not alter a tenants contractual liability to pay whatever the hardship.
The lesson here is that if Leaseholders are faced with consultation over major works and they are concerned over the ability to pay they must raise this. This would be a legitimate matter to raise and for the person undertaking the works to have regard to and whether the works can be phased. Certainly something all property managers should be alive to particularly when drawing up specifications of works.