Costs only go one way

Our lawyer Fiona McNulty looks at the legal issues involved when service charges are increased every year
Increased service charge cartoon
© Malcolm Willett (
Question: Before I bought my flat, I was told the annual service charge was about £2,500. However, in my first year it was £3,800 and in the second year it is £4,400.

I want to query this. Can you please tell me my rights and whether I can withhold payment?

Answer: Your landlord must send you a summary of your rights with any demand for payment. The summary explains your rights in more detail than space permits here, so you should consult that. The key parts, however, are as follows.

If the summary is not sent, you may withhold payment. Otherwise you may not, but you can challenge the level of charges.

The charges must be ‘reasonably incurred’. What this means depends on the context of each case. You would, however, consider whether a particular charge should have been incurred, and whether the level of charge is appropriate.

In some circumstances, the landlord must consult with you before incurring costs. For example, if proposing to carry out works that will lead to you paying more than £250 in your service charge. If your landlord does not follow specific consultation procedures, these costs can be restricted.

You can apply for the service charge to be considered by the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT). This is often done by several tenants acting together because of the cost implications.

There are fees for pursuing the application (up to £500). Your landlord will also incur costs, which your lease is likely to allow him to recover from you. The LVT can order otherwise but there is a risk of you having to bear these costs.

What's your problem?

If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, email We regret that questions cannot be answered individually.

Fiona is a partner in the property team at Thring Townsend Lee & Pembertons Solicitors

Follow us on Twitter @HomesProperty and Facebook