Former Westminster council tenants face huge increase in rent as headlease expires

By Linus Rees

Part of front door and facade of building.

The tenants in six flats in Garrick Mansions on Charing Cross Road face huge rent increases.

Former Westminster City Council tenants in a Charing Cross Road block of flats will face a three-fold increase in rent as the headlease on the property expires and the freeholder gains possession. Tenants at Garrick Mansions, which was managed by City West Homes on behalf of Westminster City Council, received letters in May and June telling them that their new landlord would be Gascoyne Holdings. Another letter sent out in June then informed the tenants that the rent for their one bedroom flats would be increased from £100 per week to £300 a week with effect from this autumn. This will put the rent above the maximum £250 ceiling for housing benefit.

A tenant from Garrick Mansions came to seek advice from the independent housing advice service run by the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association. Advice worker Samina Dewan told Fitzrovia News: “There are many people living in this block of flats, most of them live alone and many of them are elderly and do not read English. Only one tenant has approached us but many more will be affected by this.”

Cllr Jonathan Glanz, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for housing and corporate property, said: “Our 30-year lease with Gascoyne Holdings – the freeholders of Garrick Mansions – has now expired and this is why this small group of residents are no longer our direct tenants.

“While it is up to their new landlord to set their rent, CityWest Homes, which previously managed this block, will be contacting every tenant to offer support and assistance, particularly for those who may be vulnerable,” said cllr Glanz.

Garrick Mansions is one of a number of blocks of flats clustered around Charing Cross Road public library. There are a large number of social housing tenants in the nearby Faraday House owned by the Peabody Trust.

Sources have told Fitzrovia News that there are a number of properties with headleases held by either Camden or Westminster in central London that are due to expire within a few years. The tenancies of those affected will convert to private “assured tenancies”. Whilst assured tenancies offer some security, the rent levels are not controlled to the same level as social housing. As a result rents will rise to market levels which push them well above the limits set by the changes in housing benefit.

Campaigners for private tenants have long called for private rents to be capped and properly regulated. Mayor Boris Johnson has expressed concerns over the housing benefit caps. Labour’s mayoral candidate Ken Livingston has stated he’ll cap private rents in London. The Green Party’s candidate for the London Mayoral elections Jenny Jones has pledged to make housing a key battlefield in her campaign. Ms Jones who is also chair of the Mayor’s housing and planning committee recently criticised Boris Johnson for not doing enough to protect private tenants.

Editorial note. This article was edited at 09.30am 6 July 2011 after we were asked by Westminster City Council to clarify that the residents are “no longer Westminster Council tenants”. We inserted the word “former” in front of the headline and first sentence.

5 Comments on Former Westminster council tenants face huge increase in rent as headlease expires

  1. I don’t understand. Aren’t these people “social rent” tenants. If so, surely it is illegal to suddenly charge market rent. It isn’t what they signed up for.

    • It appears that Westminster City Council only gave the tenants secure tenancies up until the date of the head lease expiry. WCC were very keen to stress that they were no longer their tenants (as if to just walk away from any responsibility).The full statement from WCC is in the article above. The tenants are currently being advised on what to do. Whether they will be added to the WCC housing waiting list is not clear.

      Linus Rees, assistant editor

  2. Would housing association flats in the area have head leases or be outright owned by HAs such as One Housing Group? Are other local social rent tenants safe?

    • WCC told us there are only four households affected by expiring headleases in the whole of Westminster in the next five years. The situation with Housing Association flats will depend on individual circumstances. Most social housing properties have the freehold held by the council or HA. But some were set up on a long lease, often 99 years, and the freehold is held by the owner of the larger site of which the social housing may be just part of.

      Linus Rees, assistant editor

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