“Persimmon is heading for a bitter showdown with families who claim the housebuilder mis-sold them homes on toxic leasehold deals.
Hundreds of its customers bought leasehold houses and now claim they are trapped by ratcheting rent bills that have made it impossible to sell.
But the company, which is the UK’s most profitable developer, is playing hardball and has told desperate customers that it ‘does not accept’ their complaints.
Along with other developers, Persimmon has been banned from selling leasehold houses after a public outcry.
Persimmon and others were accused of charging extortionate ground rents, some of which rose dramatically over time, along with a raft of hidden charges.
Leaseholders effectively buy the right to live in a property for an agreed period, rather than ownership of it outright.
However, an inquiry by MPs earlier this year found that many leaseholders did not appear to have fully understood the deal.
In a recent row with Cardiff council, Persimmon was accused of mis-selling leasehold homes. It offered residents the freeholds to their properties at no charge as part of an out-of-court settlement.
Campaigners now argue all its leasehold customers across the country should receive similar compensation.
But in a letter sent to customers and seen by the Mail, the company rejected claims householders were misled.
It claimed staff would have explained the terms of the homes to customers during the sales process, that their solicitor should have advised them about it and that mortgage lenders would have also assessed the property at the time.
A separate survey by the Solicitors Regulation Authority also found one fifth of people sold leasehold properties were not even told the difference between leasehold and freehold homes.
MPs called for an investigation into possible mis-selling. They lambasted solicitors for being too cosy with developers and failing to warn clients about the rip-off deals.
Following their report, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a probe.
Sir Gary Streeter, Tory MP for South West Devon, accused the firm of telling ‘blatant’ lies to leaseholders in Plymouth, part of his constituency, during the sales process.
A Persimmon spokesman insisted the decision to ‘gift’ ownership to leaseholders in Cardiff was ‘not to do with the mis-selling of leasehold properties’, adding: ‘We firmly dispute the fact that the customers were not aware the properties were being sold on a leasehold basis.
Any suggestion that the decision by Persimmon to gift the freeholds was in relation to mis-selling of leaseholds is false and misleading.’
‘All customers buying leasehold properties are informed by the sales team at the time of purchase that the properties are leasehold and not freehold.’
‘It feels like we have been tricked’
Grandparents Noelle and Alf Lutton bought their five-bedroom home three years ago for £250,000 – but they have still been asking for problems to be fixed
Noelle and Alf Lutton claim the punitive terms of their leasehold home were not made clear to them by Persimmon.
The grandparents bought their five-bedroom home three years ago for £250,000 – but they have still been asking for problems to be fixed.
In addition, they face having to pay £150 in ground rent every year – a rate that increases every decade – and must fork out so-called ‘permission fees’ of £250 if they want to make even minor changes to the property.
They claim they were never told they would have to pay these charges. Former customer services worker Mrs Lutton, 75, says the couple had always previously lived in freehold properties but were not given that option when buying their current home in Market Deeping, near Peterborough.
Instead, they say a Persimmon sales representative verbally promised they could buy the freehold for ‘a couple of hundred pounds’ two years after the initial sale.
But Persimmon later quoted them a price of £3,750. And although it later reduced this to £500, the company insists they would still have to pay permission fees even if they now acquired the freehold.
‘Had we known then what we know now, we would never have bought the property,’ Mrs Lutton said. ‘We weren’t told about any of the fees we would have to pay. It feels like we have been tricked.’
A Persimmon spokesman said: ‘The details of the ground rent, associated fees and covenants were included within the contract and documentation at the time of purchase.
‘Following completion, Mr and Mrs Lutton raised a number of snagging issues with their property. The last one of these is due to be addressed shortly.’ “