Big enough to matter, small enough to care: a look at how KFH’s Block Management division has evolved.
28 September, 2021
KFH Block Management is one of the largest and longest established divisions of the KFH Group, tracing its roots back to the company’s formation in 1977. It provides advice on the management of residential property, whether for a Resident Management Company, Right to Manage Company, investor landlord or developer.
Leasehold is the second most popular form of housing tenure in the UK after freehold. In 2019-20, there were an estimated 4.6 million leasehold dwellings in England, which equates to 19 per cent of the current English housing stock. More than two thirds (68 per cent, 3.2 million) of the leasehold dwellings in England were flats and London has the highest proportion of leasehold dwellings, at 34 per cent.
What do block management provide?
You may or may not be aware of your block management company but, essentially, under the terms of your lease your block manager will be responsible for the maintenance of specific parts of your building. The responsibilities can vary from one lease agreement to another, but in general they tend to follow a well-trodden path whereby the landlord will be responsible for the structure of the building (including repairs, maintenance and insurance) and facilities such as lifts and communal areas (hallways, car parks, and gardens).
In the lease agreement with the freeholder there will invariably be a service charge, ground rent or sinking fund by which leaseholders can pay for these services. All service charge money collected must be held in ‘trust’ for the benefit of the leaseholders throughout the life of the development. The division of responsibilities is set out in the lease, but when it comes to actually delivering the services covered by the landlord, most often, in the case of a block of flats, a management company is contracted to deliver them.
That’s where companies like KFH, as a managing agent, come in. The appointing party may be the landlord, but can also be qualifying leaseholders who may operate a Right to Manage (RTM) company that manages their own building and the appointing of the managing agent. Alternatively, a Resident’s Management Company (RMC) may be set up to appoint and oversee the delivery of these services.
What makes for better block management?
KFH’s Block Management service involves over 65 people covering 15,000 units in 125 blocks. Richard Benson is Managing Director of KFH Block Management, and he explains what leaseholders should expect from KFH’s approach to block management. “An inspection of the site allows us to determine the scale of service that is needed. We can then prepare and demonstrate how we work with all the interested parties from the board of directors to residents. We will present to all the stakeholders, including residents, and demonstrate all the technology we use as well as introduce the people we employ to deliver the services you require.”
Upon appointment KFH draw up a contract that includes the outputs of residents’ interviews, a schedule, and a report on the condition of the building. That entire process usually takes no longer than three months. Residents are kept fully informed by their preferred means of communication and are constantly updated on the status of any projects undertaken on their property. Service level agreements are part and parcel of any new contract, ensuring everyone is clear about what needs to be delivered.
As a managing agent, a substantial part of maintenance is understanding, organising and tendering out remedial work. KFH property managers ensure all suppliers complete a due diligence process before working on the building – for example, making sure any contractor holds the required insurance cover for work they are contracted to complete. The property manager will also make sure that all the quotes obtained are reasonable, and upon completion be responsible for judging if the work is to standard.
As Benson says: “Being able to report repairs quickly and easily is important to customers and is a key part of our role. Good communication is crucial because communication problems can lead to a high amount of frustration and even damage to the building if problems are not addressed. An important job for our property managers – which may be the most important job – is to proactively listen and engage with residents and simply get things done.”
Safety has to come first
Overseeing the repairs and refurbishments of the building and its environment is only part of the job. Making sure people are safe and that landlords and residents get the help they need is central to any block management role. This work is constantly evolving in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy.
As Benson explains, KFH are involved with all parties trying to ensure the essential work is done. “Our building safety team at KFH work with clients to comply with the Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), for both low- and high-rise buildings. We are helping secure finance via the government fund for high rise buildings and have succeeded in obtaining these funds and in many cases have contractors who have started work. The speed of claims are a challenge for the government fund team owing to the number of applications, but regular meetings between KFH and the fund means progress is being made.”
Keeping abreast of the changes is vital and the changes are coming thick and fast. Landlords and leaseholders are awaiting further news on low rise buildings below 17.7m. The government announced in July this year a change to their approach, requiring risk assessments to be conducted based on new guidance. “What is required of landlords is changing all the time. Risk assessments will be conducted on new guidance, but we do know that alarm systems and sprinklers are to be used, rather than remediation, unless in exceptional circumstances, in accordance with the new PAS9980 assessment, which includes fire risk appraisal.”
It’s one of the tasks of the building safety team to keep all clients updated with progress on these issues. But clearly changes to safety legislation do not stop there and block management is about understanding these changes and delivering on them. “The new Fire Safety Act has been designed by the government so that residents can feel safe in their homes, and to prevent a tragedy such as Grenfell ever happening again,” Benson says. “The Act addresses a grey area in previous legislation that left it unclear whether existing fire safety legislation applied to the structure, external walls, cladding, balconies and windows, or even the entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.
This new Act will bring these areas within the regulations of the Fire Safety Order so that a responsible person assesses and mitigates the fire safety risk associated with these parts of the building. Fire and rescue services will be able to take enforcement action and hold the responsible person to account if they are not compliant.”
The Act is not likely to be the end of the changes, as much of the content requires a further series of regulations to be made under the Fire Safety Order, which will require public consultation over the coming months. From general maintenance to fundamental safety, every property manager should be helping landlords and residents make their homes a place they can enjoy and feel safe whether that’s administering repairs, refurbishments or ensuring legal safety standards are met.
All of that work means making sure residents and landlords are kept fully informed and matters are handled in a transparent fashion because at the root of the success of any block management contract is trust. “Block management is about understanding property but also, just as importantly, the people who live in it,” Benson concludes. “KFH Block Management focuses on London blocks, which come with their own history and individual stories, just like the people who live in them. They are homes people care about and it is our responsibility to ensure they are managed as required.”