The Prime Minister of Ireland is at the centre of a dispute over the management of Carr Mills, the Leeds University halls of residence, which is having an effect on maintenance repairs at the complex and causing distress to residents.
Brian Cowen, the Taoiseach, is a member of an Irish consortium that owns apartments in the complex, which has become embroiled in a legal wrangle with the freeholders of the site located in Meanwood.
Among the accusations levied at the Irish owners, The Carr Mills Partnership, by Adderstone Group, the freeholders, is that they are illegally sub-letting the properties to the University. Adderstone are also threatening to take Mr Cowen and his fellow investors to court over non-payment of £100,000 in rent and management fees.
Over Easter a clutch of Irish papers reported on the developments with the Times revealing that Adderstone Group has written to Mr Cowen and his colleagues informing them: “Contrary to the terms of your leases you have sub-let without authority to the University of Leeds.”
According to the paper, Adderstone see this as “an irredeemable breach of covenant” and have told the investors legal action and repossession of property is a real possibility.
The Irish consortium bought the apartments from the developers of Carr Mills in 2005 with a view to sub-letting the apartments the University, maintaining management rights during this time. But formal written consent to go ahead with the letting was not recorded.
When the developer then sold to Adderstone in 2007 this discrepancy quickly became apparent.
Importantly, the new freeholders also took over management rights from the consortium. The Irish owners were keen to keep hold of this aspect of their investment, as it can be quite lucrative with managers charging high fees to residents for the upkeep of communal areas.
In late April, The Sunday Times reported how a student became trapped in a lift in one of the blocks while the emergency phone used to dial for help was dead. When Adderstone sent workmen out they discovered the Irish owners had changed the locks.
The inability for the freeholders to get into the property they manage proved the catalyst for the legal case launch, with the dispute becoming public in the last few weeks.
The company says that it has been trying to recover £100,000 in unpaid management fees and ground rent from the 38 investors who own the 48 apartments in the development, accumulated since it began managing the complex in late 2007.
Throughout this time the two companies have been arguing over who should maintain to buildings, leading to delays in repairs and upkeep. The disruption has been concerning for dozens of people living there, with one student telling Leeds Student of her plight.
Joanne Slack a fresher residing at Carr Mills said maintenance issues had plagued her first year living away from home. “The hot water first went off on a weekend before the Christmas holidays,” the Cultural Studies student said. “There’s no on-site office at weekends so we rang one of the wardens. Maintenance didn’t come until another couple of days after and because they couldn’t fix it straight away we were without it for quite a few days. I didn’t know why there was a delay.”
“It went off again when we came back after Christmas,” she added. “It meant we couldn’t wash up or clean ourselves for a week as we came back before term started.”
Problems for Joanne escalated before Easter. “The lighting in the stairway was off for a week. Every night that we came in we walked up the stairs and it was pitch black.”
“People went to the site office straight away to complain but it still took quite a while for it to get fixed.”
Residents and staff have since confirmed that the lifts were out of action for a large part of the holidays while the problem was being located and mended.
While any halls housing large groups of students is likely to attract problems, the length of time taken to fix issues at Carr Mills in the current situation is unique.
The legal case will be yet another headache for the University over the Halls, which opened in September 2006. In November Leeds Student investigated a series of muggings in the area around Carr Mills, which prompted the University to launch a bus scheme to transport residents home.
The difficulties throughout the year have led to Joanne questioning her choice of Halls. “I don’t think these are the best halls,” she said. “We’re paying a lot of money for them. There are things wrong with the halls that mean we shouldn’t be paying as much as we are.”
Joanne told us she is paying £3790 for her year tenancy. The accommodation website states that prices for the next academic year range between £4100 and £4250, representing an increase of approximately eight per cent.
The University has guaranteed its Carr Mills residents that their tenancy won’t be affected by the legal conflict.
“The University of Leeds leases a number of student flats at Carr Mills from the Carr Mills Investment Partnership and we currently have more than 200 students living there,” a spokesperson said. “Whilst there has recently been a dispute between the Carr Mills Investment Partnership and the property company the Adderstone Group, which owns the freehold of the site and also provides some facility management services there, we understand that both parties are working to resolve their differences.
They added: “Residential & Commercial Services manage and maintain one large building at the Carr Mills Site and respond to all maintenance issues that are reported or found during inspection as quickly as possible.
“We want to reassure those students presently living in the building we lease, that recent
disagreements between the University’s landlord and the freeholder pose no threat to their ongoing residence at Carr Mills.”
Speaking to Leeds Student yesterday a representative of Adderstone said that discussions were ongoing and that he was “hopeful the situation would be resolved quickly”. But he added that when lawyers were involved in a dispute of this nature time was often inestimable.
Originally published in Leeds Student on May 1