Residents forced to move by steep maintenance charges

Marine Court, St Leonards.
Marine Court, St Leonards.

RESIDENTS in Marine Court are being forced to sell off their flats because of spiralling maintenance charges, despite poor upkeep inside.

Some owners have been landed with bills of more than £7,000 to help pay for major renovation work on the iconic Art Deco building, expected to take five years.

The first stage in the mammoth works was completed in November last year.

Anne Friedman has a studio flat and is faced with a bill of more than £3,600 to pay which she says she cannot afford.

She said: “The maintenance charges have trebled in the last two years and I can’t pay this sort of money. I’ve had threatening letters from solicitors acting on behalf of Strutt and Parker, the managing agents.

“I am trying to sell my flat but can’t because potential buyers are put off by the high maintenance charges. There are others in Marine Court in the same position.”

She said one estate agent was advertising 11 flats for sale in the building, one for less than £50,000.

“No one will pay the charges, as they come to around £300 a month,” Mrs Friedman added.

She told the Observer one pensioner was having to leave Marine Court after renting a flat for 10 years because his landlord has been forced to sell. Mrs Friedman said: “This place is being run to the ground. People are losing their homes. Most have mortgages so how can they pay off such high charges as well? It’s unrealistic.” She criticised the renovation work that had already been done, saying paint on the outside of A block was blowing off.

Mrs Friedman added: “The windows at the back of Marine Court are filthy and the carpets along the corridor in B block are worn out and have been stuck together with duct tape. They say they don’t have the money to replace them but are charging these crazy charges.”

One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “A lot of people are having to sell off their flats, as a £5,000 annual maintenance and service charge is something many people, who came here 10 years ago, cannot afford.

“A lot of people are on the wrong side of 60 and live on modest pensions. I came here in 2006 and the service charge was only £1,500. The charges shot up in December 2010. But we have to get the renovation done.”

In September 2010 the majority of residents in Marine Court bought the freehold of the building thus creating Marine Court Freeholders Ltd, effectively meaning they own it. Strutt and Parker are employed as managing agents.

Not all of the residents chose to participate in the purchase of Marine Court.

Another resident, who wished not to be named, said: “Marine Court needs revamping so how else is it going to happen?

“A lot of people are struggling but still paying the charges. It’s a bitter pill but we all have to swallow it.

“It’s a pleasure to live here and there is a nice village atmosphere.”

A statement from Marine Court Residents’ Association (MCRA) read: “We are not able to comment on individual cases. However, we are of course aware that the sudden hike in service charges, largely due to the renovation works, has hit many of our members very badly.

“While we all love our beautiful building and long to see it restored to its former glory, some are finding that they simply cannot pay which is heartbreaking, especially for older residents who have lived here for many years.

“The bottom line is that the work on the building has to be done and it is extremely expensive.

“As Marine Court is a Grade II listed iconic building and appears on most illustrations of Hastings and St Leonards we find it unusual that there has been no contribution from the public purse, either from heritage or Lottery funds, or from the local council.

“Although the majority of residents in the building belong to MCRA, we have only recently received governmental recognition as their representative association. We will now be doing all we can to act in the best interests of our members by making representation to directors of the company owning the freehold and their managing agents, Strutt and Parker.”

Local ward councillor and leader of Hastings Borough Council, Jeremy Birch, said the authority used to get grant money from the Government’s Townscape Heritage Initiative fund but this stopped at the end of last year.

He said: “Before the residents took over the freehold the council took enforcement action against the old owners on a couple of occasions. They repaired the blue canopy at the side of Marine Court as a result.

“What the council has agreed with the new owners is a timetable of works. Marine Court has been in a state of disrepair for a while and the renovation cannot be done in a matter of months.

“It’s unfortunate that the current residents are having to pay higher charges as a result of the old owners not doing the work. The council’s main interest is getting Marine Court looking good because it’s an important and iconic building. Once the work is done the value of properties there will increase.”

Tony Martin, one of the seven directors of Marine Court Freeholders Ltd, said: “The previous owners did not maintain the building and because of the nature of Marine Court and its seafront location it needs a great deal of repairs, which are complicated and costly. The level of service charges were set by us at our annual general meeting.

“We consider Strutt and Parker to be very professional managing agents, which manage the building well.”