As a Block Manager, I am fond of ARMA. It is an organisation that, on the whole, has stood up for the interests of managing agents in a challenging industry. ARMA promotes good practice and does, to some extent, raise the bar for those involved with the management of blocks of flats. The well-attended ARMA conference, which takes place every autumn, is an excellent event and keeps the attendees up-to-date about the ever-changing legal landscape in which we operate. ARMA-Q is a step forward because it creates a universal set of rules which managing agents should be following that are very specific and very sensible. There is also a mechanism for further independent redress built into the scheme which, on paper, gives ARMA more teeth in terms of disciplining its members.
But let’s not get carried away with ARMA, or indeed ARMA-Q. For now, it appears that the battle for statutory regulation in block management has been lost by those in favour of it, including JFM. ARMA is a trade body and was formed by members of some of the most powerful, old-school firms of agents in the industry. Peverel for instance, have always had close ties with ARMA and continue to be an influence on the organisation. And yet Peverel are often perceived by many leaseholder groups to be the kind of managing agent that every leaseholder should avoid. We are talking about an organisation that, at least until recently, continues to write themselves into leases, so that even leaseholders who obtain their Freehold cannot give them the boot.
The leasehold industry is changing and not all ARMA members are on the right side of that change. It is the repression of competition that is responsible for many examples of the poor service we see. The recent review of the sector by the Competition and Markets Authority clearly shows that property management works best when the flat-owners are in control of the services. Too many ARMA members have their interests locked up in old-fashioned practices which diminish that control.
ARMA is, at best, a good trade body. They are not, and will never be, an effective regulatory body. So, if you are a leaseholder looking to switch agent, don’t be blinded by the ARMA self-congratulatory propaganda. You are better off ensuring that your agent is a member of a recognised independent Ombudsman scheme. You might get further peace-of-mind if they are accredited by the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors). RICS is backed by Royal Charter and therefore, its members are obliged to act within the public interest and a strict ethical code, and arguably a more stringent code of practice than that of even ARMA-Q.
It takes two years before ARMA allow new entrants to the sector to join their ranks. In 2017, JFM fully expect to do this. However, we would question why ARMA would want to stifle competition by making new lessee-friendly agents wait so long. ARMA should be celebrated but let’s ensure its significance is not over-stated.
Joe Mallon – April 2015