On Wednesday 17th January, I met with constituents to discuss their concerns regarding FirstPort Property Management's implementation of a fixed rent charge for freehold property owners in Port Marine, Portishead.
Since 2011, FirstPort have implemented a fixed rent charge of £1 for most property owners in Port Marine (for those that they implemented a higher rent charge, eventual refunds should have been issued). The rate was set at £1 after FirstPort agreed to Crest Nicholson's (the developers of the properties) request that the rate be set at that amount.
However, at the end of 2023, FirstPort sent letters to the residents of the development indicating that it intends to revoke the 2011 agreement and start implementing a higher fixed rent charge, arguing that the agreement they made with residents in 2011 was not legally binding because there was no Deed of Variation.
Following my meeting with constituents, I got in touch with Crest Nicholson as the property's original developers and the company who ensured FirstPort reduced the fixed rent charge in 2011 to ask if they could provide additional support to residents to stop FirstPort taking the fixed rent charge.
Please see both my email to Mr Peter Hoskins, Customer Service Director at Crest Nicholson, and Mr Mark Foyle's, Managing Director at Crest Nicholson South West, response below.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me through either the contact form on my website or by emailing email@example.com should you need additional assistance or information.
As Mr. Foyle states at the end of his email, Crest Nicholson 'is willing to provide what reasonable assistance it can to assist its former customers in rectifying the situation'. You can therefore get in touch with the company by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org should you wish to raise anything with them directly.
Email to Mr Peter Hoskins, Customer Service Director at Crest Nicholson:
Dear Mr Hoskins,
I am writing to you regarding an issue with the implementation of a fixed rent charge by FirstPort Property Management that freehold property owners in Port Marine, Portishead, are currently facing.
As has been relayed to me and raised with you through correspondence with several of my constituents, in 2011, solicitors acting on behalf of Crest Nicholson wrote to FirstPort (then known as Consort) advising them that this fixed rent charge be reduced to £1. While First Port applied this to some residents, they did not apply it to all residents, meaning some were charged a greater amount. This amount was subsequently refunded to residents at a later date once it was realised that FirstPort had been taking the payments incorrectly.
However, FirstPort are now trying to implement the higher rent charge once again, arguing that the agreement made with residents in 2011 was not legally binding because there was no Deed of Variation.
As many of my constituents have pointed out, it seems unfair for the sudden change, especially when it is unclear what service the fixed rent charge is providing for them.
Bearing in mind my constituents were not advised in 2011 that a Deed of Variation should be entered into and the change logged with the Land Registry, is there a way that Crest Nicholson can now support them to ensure that FirstPort stop trying to take this fixed rent charge?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Response from Mr Mark Foyle, Managing Director at Crest Nicholson South West:
Dear Sir Fox,
Thank you for your email.
Crest shares your concerns about the recent decision taken by FirstPort to unilaterally re-impose the fixed rentcharge of the properties at Port Marine. I have written to FirstPort expressing these concerns and enclose a copy of that letter with this email (please find this letter attached below).
As you will see from the letter, Crest’s view is that the decision being taken by FirstPort is not only unfair but the underlying mechanism within the transfer is potentially open to challenge in the Courts. This is because the annual charges they are proposing to claim (£100/£150) are not what a Court would consider to be “nominal” amounts (which is a requirement in order for a fixed rentcharge to be lawful under the Rentcharges Act 1977).
I should also draw to your attention my other concern: many of the residents wrongly believe this money is being paid in exchange for FirstPort performing a service (the enforcement of covenants). FirstPort is already able to recover its costs for enforcing covenants from the variable element of the rentcharge so FirstPort’s claim that this is its purpose is, at best, questionable.
FirstPort has indicated to Crest that it is willing to enter into appropriate title documentation for each property to confirm a reduction in the fixed rentcharge to £1, however, it has suggested that it will charge an administration fee of £300 (reduced from £500) in order to do so. Whilst that is a step in the right direction, Crest still considers this to be unfair as it will still result in a significant outlay to rectify the situation and it is difficult to see how this cost can be justified given the questions over the validity of the fixed rentcharge provisions.
As you will be aware, the original sale of these properties and the rentcharge mechanisms within the Transfer were all agreed many years ago. Owing to staff changes it is not clear why the fixed rentcharge was set at the level it was. Equally, whilst a deed of variation may not have been entered into it was Crest’s understanding that a mutual agreement had been reached in 2011 not to charge the fixed rentcharges and Crest is disappointed that FirstPort has chosen to rely upon the absence of a formal binding legal agreement to try to renege on that agreement and reassert the original contractual provisions.
Whilst any entitlement to be paid the fixed rentcharge is FirstPort’s (and nothing to do with Crest), Crest is willing to provide what reasonable assistance it can to assist its former customers in rectifying the situation and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss any solutions you or the residents may have in mind.