Lancaster couple's 'forever home' dream turns into a 'student campus' nightmare

Paul Christy and Lynda Tommony.Paul Christy and Lynda Tommony.
Paul Christy and Lynda Tommony.
When Lynda Tommony and Paul Christy moved into their brand new property at the end of a cul-de-sac off St George's Quay in August 2018, they thought they had bought their 'forever home'.

But just eight months later they said they discovered that the estate's developer Persimmon Homes had sold eight properties immediately surrounding theirs - in Booth Gardens - to a property investment company.

Not long after, the properties were converted to be used as HMOs (Homes with Multiple Occupancy), and students started moving in.

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Some of the properties were bought by an Essex based company, which now owns numbers 18 and 24 Booth Gardens, according to Companies House.

Booth Gardens, off St George's Quay.Booth Gardens, off St George's Quay.
Booth Gardens, off St George's Quay.

The couple said that according to their legal documents regarding restrictive covenants, all properties are to be used as Single Private Dwelling only.

They complained to Persimmon Homes, but said that after 15 months of meetings, conversations and emails, the breaches have not been enforced and the company is "refusing to do so".

Persimmon Homes denies being in breach of any covenant or lease.

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Lancaster City Council's Ward Coun Gina Dowding said that Persimmon Homes "clearly had a responsibility to ensure that family housing units stay as such" and that family homes are being lost to the market for owner occupiers and instead becoming investment opportunities.

Lynda and Paul with months worth of correspondence with Persimmon Homes.Lynda and Paul with months worth of correspondence with Persimmon Homes.
Lynda and Paul with months worth of correspondence with Persimmon Homes.

The converted properties in Booth Gardens are being advertised by Lancaster student lettings company Mighty Student Living, and are shown as being reserved.

Other properties in Booth Gardens are also being advertised to students on the site.

Lynda said: "We have now been in our house for two years and what should have been a pleasurable experience has been overshadowed, and dominated all our time and efforts in trying to get Persimmon Homes to honour and enforce the legal covenants that they have written and are registered as such with Land Registry.

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"We did not purchase our property to live on a student campus with the associated mess, noise and parking issues, and thought we were protected by the leasehold terms which of course Persimmon Homes themselves have set in place."

Lynda said that the company offered to buy back their property at a lower price than what they paid for it, and also offered to swap them for a similar property directly behind the currently under construction 419-bed student development in St George's Quay.

The couple declined.

In a letter to the couple from Persimmon Homes seen by the Lancaster Guardian, the company said it had "written to the owner of the properties involved reminding them of the terms of the lease and asking them to comply".

Coun Gina Dowding said: "I have huge sympathy for Ms Tommony and Mr Christy.

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"On a broader scale, the problem of houses being converted into HMOs for students is a worrying trend.

"It means as fast as family homes are being built they are being lost to the housing market for owner occupiers, and instead become investment opportunities.

"This is a structural problem in the housing market and needs to be addressed by government policy.

"However I will be looking at whether the council is able to close some of these loopholes that are being exploited by investors through Council’s own policies."

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A spokesperson for Persimmon Homes Lancashire said: “We are aware of these customers and their complaint, and have engaged extensively with them and their legal representatives over the last 18 months.

“Persimmon’s legal team advised the customers in February 2020 that Persimmon are not in breach of any covenant or lease and that an independent RICS valuation, obtained at Persimmon’s cost, showed they had not suffered any loss of value to their home as had been claimed.

“In the interests of customer satisfaction we previously made various proposals to address their concerns including to swap or buy back their home as a gesture of goodwill.

"These were rejected by the customer.

“Notwithstanding our own position, the customer may be able to take action themselves directly, at their own cost, if they believe other property owners are in breach of covenants.

"To our knowledge no such action has commenced.

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“We have positively reacted to any reports of antisocial or nuisance behaviour by any residents at the development.

"Such incidents should also always be reported to the police or local authority.”

Lynda and Paul said they have now paid £2,000 to start legal proceedings.

They added: "We've now got to risk all of our savings to go down this route.

"We don't want to, but we've been left with no other option and to be completely honest we are disgusted by the whole situation."

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