LEASEHOLDERS are preparing to fight against £50,000 refurbishment bills for revamping the city’s tower blocks.

A new Leaseholders’ Association has been formed ahead of work beginning in Evenlode Tower this month as part of an ambitious two-year £20 million project.

Tenants in the building are not expected to pay anything but 51 leaseholder families are being asked to fork out “ridiculous” amounts for their share of the work.

Leila Stonehouse, 82, of Evenlode Tower, said her bill for work, including new windows, cladding and heating, had totalled £50,249.

She said: “I’m not going to pay. Why should I? We are having a meeting with the council on January 24 but I don’t know what I’m going to tell them.

“There are people here with a £90,000 mortgage; how are they going to pay this?”

About 20 leaseholders joined a meeting at East Oxford Conservative Association (OECA) on Sunday to sign a contract and launch the new Oxford Towers Leaseholders Association, which will challenge the council on current costs.

OECA chairman Mark Bhagwadin said: “The launch of this association shows that flat owners are united and ready to oppose these ridiculous charges.

“While the need does exist for flat owners to contribute to repairs and upkeep, the city council must consider the ability of low income people to contribute.”

Chairman Stefan Piechnik, an Oxford University physicist from Plowman Tower, has himself received a bill for just under £49,000.

He said: “The council has an obligation to specify reasons for the charges and there’s no indication of why they decided to charge that much. A huge proportion of leaseholders are elderly – several don’t even use the internet – and these are the people with whom Oxford City Council deals by threat of legal action.”

The council is applying to the Property Chamber of HM Courts & Tribunals Service for a legal determination on whether or not the charges are reasonable.

Residents are invited along to make representations.

Improvements to be carried out at Evenlode, Windrush, Plowman, Foresters and Hockmore towers includes better insulation, fire safety, lift refurbishment, external cladding, and improvements to the grounds and car parks. Leaseholders are being consulted until February 8.

Repayment options including five-year repayment plans, loans and equity shares have been offered to residents.

Cllr Mike Rowley, board member for housing and property services, added: “We’ve taken the unusual step of seeking independent advice as to the reasonableness of our charges.

Our housing budget comes from tenants’ rents so we cannot ask them to subsidise improvements. Referring costs to the Property Chamber will make sure that everyone pays their fair share.”

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