Nearly 100 members of a tenants’ union in a run-down estate in Herne Hill have written to their landlord for rent relief during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Many residents at Dorchester Court, left in disrepair and plagued by heating outages for years, have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. 

But landlord Manaquel, owned by property investor Heinrich Feldman, who is listed on the Sunday Times Rich List as being worth more than £200 million, says it can’t afford to cut the rent.  

Manaquel offered a repayment plan but tenants say it’s not fair to put people who are already struggling into more debt. 

Wandsworth Times: Tenants suffer through heating outages throughout the winter 

One man, who has lived at Dorchester Court for five years, said the average rent per room is £650, which universal credit does not cover.  

Some tenants don’t qualify for Government grants because of how their employment is classified. 

The tenant, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the correspondence from Property Partners has been “totally incompetent”. 

“If someone misses a rent payment by a day, they’ll sometimes get a really long pushy email, but other people have missed their rent payment by a month and won’t hear anything.  

“We have an NHS employee here who works in ICU at the moment. His partner has totally lost their income, they work in events and haven’t been self-employed for very long so aren’t covered by any scheme.  

“They can’t pay their rent. 

“[Manaquel] is not budging – they keep trying to push people into a repayment plan, and that’s not a negotiation, it’s a one-way dialogue. 

“Offering to be indebted to a landlord, in probably the biggest recession coming in a century, doesn’t strike us as a fair offer.  

“Our landlord is on the Sunday Times Rich List, he’s just gone up a place, and the letting agent has told us he can’t afford to give us a discount,” he said.  

On top of this, the estate has been plagued with issues over the past 20 years. 

“The heating and hot water system regularly breaks down in the winter.

“In November and December last year it went down across the whole estate for the best part of two months and was intermittent going into January and February. 

“I’m young, I have no dependents, and it wasn’t very nice for me, but we have some very elderly people here. 

“We met people in their eighties that were heating their flat with their gas kitchen hob. 

“If you have children it’s dangerous to be carrying around boiling pans of water to put into the bath and the sink.” 

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Residents originally formed the union to make a claim for loss of amenities, but said they were “fobbed off” with an offer to pay the difference in their electricity bills compared to the year previous. 

“But they never said at the time that they would pay this difference.  

“No one in their right mind is going to spend enormous amounts of money using electric heaters if they don’t know they’re going to be reimbursed.  

“This was all coming to a head two weeks before lockdown and now they’ve just fobbed us off saying that they’re stretched at the moment, they’re working from home, yet they still have plenty of capacity to harass us for rent and threaten us. 

“The rent we give them is literally profit. Landlords are not a priority at the moment – we need to prioritise buying food,” he said.  

Manaquel submitted a planning application during lockdown to build penthouses on top on blocks in the estate, as well as town houses – during the renovation residents will be moved out.  

Manaquel argues it needs the anticipated revenue to repair the estate.  

“They’ve owned it since 1959 and they’ve just driven it into the ground,” he said, adding that tenants expected to be evicted for good.   

“People have assured shorthold tenancies – they don’t have to provide us with substitute housing, they don’t have to invite us back and they won’t.  

“We’ll be evicted, we’ll lose our homes, we’ll lose friends, it’s not a great time to be moving house.  

“I can’t imagine it’s going to get any better,” he said.  

A spokesperson for Manaquel did not address the request for a rent reduction, but said: “Dorchester Court is a superb estate and Manaquel Company is committed to revitalising the development back to its former glory.  

“As part of its planning application it is pledging to ensure that all structural works to brickwork, balconies and windows are undertaken as a first priority.  

“They have had continuous dialogue with Dorchester Court Residents Assocation (DCRA) over the past 15 years but have been continually thwarted by them. 

“Manaquel Company has lodged a summary plan with the council that deals with rehousing tenants at Dorchester Court whilst works are undertaken.  

“It is fully anticipated that the detail will be discussed and agreed with the council and residents further during the course of the application and if necessary detail secured by planning condition or legal obligation prior to works commencing.   

“It is unfortunate that a small number of long leaseholders are trying to derail the proposals by making inaccurate statements. 

“It is important to note that the costs of repair and refurbishment to the building are in fact closer to £10 million. These costs have been exacerbated due to the fact that the building was listed.  

“Manaquel have always regarded the purpose of the planning application as a resourceful means of raising the funds required in order to restore the estate to its former glory and has genuinely considered the development project as an enabling program for the good of the estate and its occupants.  

“The development will not provide the landlord with any windfall, as they have demonstrated to the local planning authority, contrary to what the tenants wish to believe .  

“The development would in fact produce a long-term benefit for the long lessees by also reducing their service charge liability.  

“Throughout the pre-application planning process the freeholders have consulted with the tenants’ association and have made every attempt at each stage to address their many concerns.  

“The general, continuous, persistent and ongoing resistance from these few long lessees has largely contributed to the protracted application, the increased costs of the repair to the building and the delay in being able to commence these much-needed works, of which, ironically, they themselves now complain.    

“Manaquel will continue to work with the local authority to ensure that all planning guidelines are met and that works at Dorchester Court can commence forthwith.   

“The penthouses will be built quickly as modular high-quality apartments on a block by block basis whilst the structural repairs are undertaken and the townhouses will be built last, as explained in the planning application documentation.”