Published: 06/12/2017 07:00 - Updated: 04/12/2017 16:38

Fed-up families demand an end to soaring bills

Written byIain Ramage

 

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins stopped paying Greenbelt five years ago because he was unhappy with the service.

COMMUNITY councillors want urgent talks to end a 12-year-old row over the cost and quality of grounds maintenance for more than 800 Inverness homes.

The issue has featured at local community council meetings for years but no amount of debate has resolved the situation.

Furious customers from private housing estates across the UK have taken to online forums to share their concerns about the same factor – Glasgow-based land management company Greenbelt.

There has also been complex and costly legal arguments, but no clear resolution of the issues.

Much of the residents’ dissatisfaction centres on the bills. The company insists increases have been below inflation, but residents have challenged that on social media.

Bob Roberts, a Milton of Leys resident and secretary of Inver-ness South Community Council, said: "What’s needed is a meeting involving Highland Council, Greenbelt and the developers to sort out the whole situation."

He is unhappy with the quality of service and the rising costs.

He said his annual bill had risen from £100 in 2005-06 to £173.12 for 2017-18.

Community council chairman Kevin Findlay said: "Most of our members are affected residents and it’s come up at pretty well every meeting for a decade.

"My experience of Greenbelt is that they are unwilling to talk to us, unwilling to negotiate and unwilling to even meet us halfway."

Greenbelt insists it is "always happy to listen and to help".

Some disillusioned Milton of Leys residents stopped paying their maintenance bills years ago.

While Greenbelt warns it will pursue unpaid bills, some residents cite a legal ruling that they interpret as a get-out clause, meaning they are not obliged to cough up.

Michael Marriott, a householder in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, took his legal case against Greenbelt to the Lands Tribunal for Scotland (LTS) in 2015 and won.

It resulted in the "burdens" in his property deeds and those of all others on his estate being deleted by the Registers of Scotland (RoS), a Scottish Government department responsible for property records. He said: "Before we took this case no-one knew where they stood legally. We did this to give people more understanding so they can exercise their rights.

"Essentially, what we’ve got in Scotland is a new feudal system.

"We won because the deeds were not compliant with legislation – an inaccuracy was found in the burdens.

"They started looking at other burdens and they contained the same errors. The open spaces were not clearly defined within the deeds."

In the wake of the Marriott case, RoS applied the ruling to a separate challenge in Dundee.

Greenbelt has since challenged that, arguing that the judgement related specifically to the Marriott home. The objection is being considered by the LTS.

Part of the Marriott argument is that property deeds should not feature a reference to compulsory payment to a factor.

In the case of Milton of Leys, some residents believe a universal factoring fee would have been legal if an arrangement had been pre-agreed between a residents’ association and the original developer, Matar.

No such arrangement was established and maintenance costs were simply applied to property deeds.

The land was later bought by Tulloch Homes and part of it sold on to Barratt Homes.

Greenbelt will not divulge how many Milton of Leys residents have refused to pay. Talk of there being no obligation to pay angers the company.

Mr Findlay said: "Any resident of Milton of Leys can have their deeds changed and they don’t have to pay Greenbelt a penny."

The community council relayed that message on its website. Greenbelt responded in writing to residents, describing the observation as "not helpful".

Nigel Collins, who bought his Redwood Avenue home in Milton of Leys in 2003, stopped paying Greenbelt five years ago because he was unhappy with the service.

He said: "I contacted RoS and I’ve had it [the factoring clause] taken off my deeds. I’ve claimed back about £200 paid by direct debit and received it.

"After 14 years, this estate should be like Beverly Hills for the money they’re getting."

Another resident, who did not wish to be named, stopped paying Greenbelt several years ago because she was unhappy with the service prior to 2009.

She had her deeds amended after the Marriott case.

A spokesman for Greenbelt said "a tiny minority" of Milton of Leys customers had "chosen to break their legal arrangement".

He suggested an "agenda" was being set against the firm to reflect "a propaganda campaign that does not provide any public interest angle".

The firm maintains that it has a "UK-wide reputation for delivering the highest quality service to homeowners".

Highland Council considers the dispute "a private matter between the residents, their solicitors, Tullochs and Greenbelt".

A spokesman for Tulloch Homes said: "There is a deed of conditions on the sale of every house that the purchaser accepts the appointment of a factor. At Milton of Leys, 90 per cent of residents pay a charge to the factor."

He added the firm had plans for various new developments in the area.

Are you a Milton of Leys Greenbelt customer? Do you want to share your experience of the company? Email us at newsdesk@spp-group.com


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