Northern Ireland

Larkspur Rise: Some apartment owners object to £7,000 wall repair bill

Larkspur Rise flats
Image caption Some apartment owners have been threatened with repossession if they do not pay the bill

A group of apartment owners in Belfast have been threatened with losing their homes unless they each pay £7,000 towards the cost of repairing a wall.

They are among 31 residents at Larkspur Rise who have received bills to meet the overall £200,000 cost of replacing a wall that collapsed two years ago.

All are members of a management company they had to join when they bought in the development.

The firm said by signing a lease, they were liable for the communal grounds.

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Media captionEddie Butler said he could not afford to pay £7,000

Some of them have received legal letters threatening them with homes repossessed if they do not hand over the money.

Apartment owner Eddie Butler, who bought one of the apartments in west Belfast 13 years ago, said: "There is nothing I can do.

"I am currently not working at the minute - I do not have savings to pay £7,000, but they are not willing to look at that. They are just saying we are looking £7,000.

"I am basically standing here in limbo to see if I am going to be summoned to court or if somebody is going to come out and say, your home going to be repossessed."

On top of the £7,000 demand, the solicitor's firm says Mr Butler now owes an additional £544 " in respect of the preparation and service of this notice".

Image caption The retaining wall collapsed in 2012

The apartment owners are all members of the Larkspur Management Company, which is run by an agent called Gateway NI.

Gateway NI declined to be interviewed, but in a statement it said that once the owners signed a lease when they bought an apartment, they became liable for the communal grounds, which in this case, includes repairs to the collapsed wall.

A spokesperson said: "I would refer you to the lease in which each owner signed at the point of purchasing their apartment.

"A number of the covenants within this lease highlight their ownership and responsibility over the communal grounds and, as such, their liability."

The retaining wall which separates the development from the Colin Glen River collapsed in 2012.

The Enniskillen-based company that built the houses, Fider Homes, denied any responsibility for it.

'Ad hoc levy'

So far, some of the 31 apartment owners have paid, but others have not.

There was a failed attempt to get the cost of replacing the wall through an insurance policy.

Gateway NI then proposed that an "ad hoc levy" of £7,000 should be paid by each apartment owner towards the cost of the wall.

The management company agreed, but according to one of the owners, only eight out of the 31 members attended the meeting at which the decision was taken.

Asked if Gateway NI was being heavy-handed in how it is dealing with this issue, it said: "The letters sent by the solicitors, are that as instructed by Larkspur Management Co Ltd. It would remain unfair for the repairs to be completed by those residents that have sourced the funds to date and have paid."

Image caption The wall separated the development from the Colin Glen River

The solicitor's letters state: "We are instructed by Gateway NI on behalf of Larkspur Management Co Ltd to recover the service charge monies owed to them."

As well as receiving a demand for £7,000, the same solicitors have also been in touch with the mortgage lender of one of the apartment owners.

The owner has been told that if he does not contact his lender by a certain date, they will hand over the £7,000 and that sum will then be added to his mortgage.

He said: "The demand for £7,000 is just incredible. There is no way most people will have that kind of money.

"The mortgage company have now said they will pay it, which is going to add on £7,000 to what we already owe.

"It puts quite a lot of pressure on us financially and stress-wise as well. "

The agents Gateway NI said "it has been the recommendation of two civil engineers that the wall be designed and replaced".

Image caption Some of the 31 apartment owners have paid the £7,000, but others have not

After the wall collapsed, Belfast City Council officials said the area around it was dangerous and instructed the management company to make it safe or face legal action.

A fence was erected around it and according to the council, there has been no further movement of the wall.

"In light of those factors, the council was satisfied that the measures taken had sufficiently removed the danger, therefore there was no need for a court order so the council withdrew the summons," a spokesperson said.

Now some of the residents are asking if a £200,000 structure is really necessary.

One apartment owner said: "For what they have requested of us, £7,000 off all the residents totalling £200,000 or thereabouts, it could be done for a lot less."

A spokesperson for Gateway NI said: "We would like to state that as agents, Gateway NI have a great deal of sympathy for all the shareholders within Larkspur Rise, and have over the past 18 months investigated all possibilities in order to avoid this situation."

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