Painsmith Landlord and Tenant Blog

A practitioners landlord and tenant law blog from PainSmith Solicitors

Buying your freehold: Section 5 Landlord and Tenant 1987, Right to Buy

We have talked previously about long leaseholders purchasing their freehold.

PainSmith has recently assisted a substantial development of about 100 flats and various commercial units to purchase their freehold.  The Freeholder of this development entered into liquidation. The Liquidators served notices under Section 5 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 giving the residential leaseholders a right of first refusal.  The development consisted of about 100 long residential leaseholders and various separately let commercial units.

Certain of the leaseholders approached PainSmith for advice and we were able to advise on their rights that provided not less than 50% of the residential leaseholders wanted to purchase they could do so at the price included in the notice.  PainSmith assisted in the co-ordination of the leaseholders to bring on board more than the numbers required.  This meant explaining the process and assisting in drafting documents for the leaseholders and then obtaining valuation advice to assist the participants in making the decision to proceed.   Acceptance Notices were served within two months of the service of the notice and the form of contract was agreed with the Vendors.  PainSmith assisted in dealing with an investor who was found to fund the premium payable in respect of the non-participant minority leaseholders so that those taking part did not have to fund this part of the premium.

The transaction completed allowing the residents who participated to have control of their destiny moving forward at a price they were advised was advantageous.

If therefore you or any of your clients in respect of leasehold property they own receive a Section 5 Notice from a freeholder indicating they are looking to sell their freehold interest we at PainSmith are experienced in:

  1. Advising on the Notice, its validity and steps to be taken,
  2. Assisting finding suitable valuation advice and if necessary finding investors to help fund the purchase.
  3. Co-ordinating all the various steps including payment of completion monies.
  4. Dealing with all of the formalities both prior to and post completion  of the freehold.

If you have any queries or questions do not hesitate to contact a member of the long residential leasehold team who will be happy to discuss and assist

Filed under: England & Wales,

APPOINTMENT OF A MANAGER

We have recently seen a rise in the number of enquiries from long leaseholders dissatisfied with the management of their building. Often after the leaseholders have themselves taken over the management.

Many of our readers will be aware that the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 introduced Right to Manage (RTM). This was a non-fault ground that if the majority of leaseholders in a building wished to take over management then in effect they could do so. The process was thought to be straight forward but the rise in cases before the First Tier Tribunal Property Chamber and subsequent appeals to the Upper Tribunal are a clear indication that many freeholders will not give up management without a fight. Even when the process has been followed dissatisfaction can still exist with some leaseholders unhappy with the conduct of others.

So what other options are there? The Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 provides an alternative route. To follow this it is first necessary to show that in some way the body managing the development is not complying with its statutory duties and requirements under the lease. Any one leaseholder is entitled to follow this procedure.

Initially a Notice must be give to the freeholder and the person managing under section 22 of the 1987 Act. This notice needs to give details of what the perceived difficulties are and suggest how the manager can remedy the same. If the landlord and manager do not then remedy the breaches within a reasonable period of time an application can be made to the First Tier Tribunal Property Chamber inviting them to appoint a manager.

At the hearing the Applicant has to justify to the Tribunal that it is “just and convenient” to appoint a manager. Generally the Tribunal will want to be satisfied that the current appointee has not been complying with the lease and statute. The Tribunal will also take account the views of other leaseholders and the freeholder. The Tribunal will consider all points to try and determine if the imposition of a manager will improve the lot of the leaseholders to ensure good management of the building.

It is for the Applicant to source a person to be a manager. Generally the Tribunal will want to appoint a professional who can demonstrate that they fully understand what is required of them, will follow one of the approved statutory codes of management (such as the RICS Residential Service Charge Code), have sufficient professional expertise and hold insurance. The proposed manager will normally be required to attend any hearing and in effect be interviewed by the Tribunal to satisfy them as to the suitability. The reason for this is that the Manager (who may also be given powers as a Receiver) is an appointee of the Tribunal and answerable to them in the first instance rather than the parties to the leases. The management order will set out comprehensively the terms of appointment including prescribing the fees the manager can charge, the length of the appointment and other rights give to them. If anything is not covered or difficulties arise any party (including the manager) can then apply to the Tribunal for further directions. Typically an appointment will initially be for two or three years and before the Order lapses it is possible for the parties to apply for an extension of the same.

The benefit is that an entirely independent manager is appointed who is personally answerable (as the Order always names a specific individual) to the Tribunal. We have seen a rise in situations where the leaseholders have taken over management (either as a result of an RTM or collective enfranchisement) but issues have arisen. All too often we come across situations where factions arise who do not wish to strictly comply with the lease or statute. When such agreements are unanimous this can work but there are risks. In these circumstances the imposition of a manager may be better for all parties to resolve disputes. It is also worth noting that the leaseholder(s) who apply will themselves have no liability for the management. In forming and setting up an RTM their will be costs which the participating leaseholders are joint and severally liable for and those leaseholders whop become Directors of an RTM also have responsibilities under the rules and regulations governing companies.

These situations typically are complicated but appointment of a manager can be an effective method of resolving long residential leasehold management problems. We at PainSmith are happy to advise on any such matters, including assisting in finding managers prepared to accept such appointments.

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

More Long Leasehold News

For those of you who are involved in people looking to extend their leases or undertaking freehold purchase by way of collective enfranchisement under the Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 you will no doubt be aware of the issues with regards to signing the Initial Notices required under this Act.

Due to a case called St Ermin’s Property Co. Ltd v. Tingay [2002]EWHC 1673 (Ch) it was determined that all such Notices must be personally signed by the relevant leaseholder. The case determined that the Notice could not be signed by a solicitor or even under a Power of Attorney but required an actual signature. This practically caused many issues particularly once the residence requirement was removed and leaseholders were often “Buy to Let” landlords spread all over the globe.

As a result a Private Members Bill, Leasehold Reform (Amendment) Bill, is due to get its second reading on 22nd November 2013. The Bill sets out to amend paragraph 99 of the 1993 Act to remove the requirement that Notices must be personally signed. If the Bill should become law it will mean that Notices may be signed “by or on behalf of the tenant” and should remove this practical difficulty.

Whilst this may seems minor many notices have been rejected by freeholders on the grounds they have not been properly executed and leaseholders have had to start the process all over again incurring not only their own costs but having to pay costs to freeholders.

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

Phillips v. Francis: Permisssion to Appeal granted

At the end of last year we were all faced with the Judgement in Phillips v. Francis [2012] EWHC 3650 (Ch). No doubt those of you with an interest in long leasehold matters and particularly property management will recall that Sir Andrew Morritt, The Chancellor, in what is believed to be one of his final judgments, determined that the test for qualifying works requiring consultation under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 required all qualifying works to be considered together. If the total cost would exceed £250 then consultation was required.

He determined that it was a case of looking at qualifying works as a whole in the relevant service charge period and if the cost would exceed the threshold for consultation then the landlord/managing agent should consult. So if the cost of repairs (no matter what was included) in any one service charge period would mean that any one leaseholder would have to contribute more than £250 (the current threshold) then consultation should take place. Prior to this the practice had been that elements could be broken down and it was a question of looking at the particular works and consulting on those for which the contract sum would result in a charge above the threshold.

The Supreme Court in Daejan v. Benson offered some relief in its decision earlier this year. Here the Supreme Court determined that generally dispensation for a failure to consult should be granted although conditions may be attached. However the Francis decision continued to cause much consternation.

It appears initially the Landlords did not appeal due to a lack of funds. It is understood that they have now gained support from interested parties including ARMA and RICS. An application for permission to appeal and an extension of time was made. This application was granted by the Court of Appeal yesterday, 18th November 2013, with Lord Justice Gloster giving Judgment.

The Court of Appeal accepted that there was a point of principle such as to satisfy Civil Procedure Rule 52.13. As a result time was extended and permission to appeal granted with the court taking account of the unprecedented industry interest and concern over the original decision.

It would appear the Respondents are concerned that the Appellants have assistance from various parties with the appeal yet supposedly no party has come forward to offer assistance to the Respondents. Various other arguments were raised which it is understood they will continue to pursue at any substantive hearing of the appeal.

It seems likely that the full hearing will come before the court at some point next year and so for the time being the position as to when to consult appears to be in a position of flux. As we learn more we will post updates.

We would like to thank Anneli Robins a pupil at Arden Chambers who attended the hearing and prepared a note and Justin Bates, also of Arden Chambers, for supplying us with a copy of the same.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , ,

Whose address? Sections 47 and 48 Revisited

We have heard on the grapevine that some agents are currently being advised that following the Land Tribunal ( Upper Chamber) decisions of Triplerose Ltd v Grantglen and Beitov Properties Ltd v Elliston Martin , they should not use an agent’s office and address as an address for service for the purposes of Sections 47 and 48 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (LTA1987). There have even been suggestions that tenancy agreements should be amended to require the tenant to serve notices on both the landlord and the agent. We disagree.

The Beitov and Triplerose cases concerned service charges, and the decision was crucial to long leasehold premises. We blogged on this here.

Section 47 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (LTA1987) provides that where any written demand is given to a tenant of residential leasehold property, then that demand must contain:
a) the name and address of the landlord and
b) if that address is not in England and Wales, an address for service.
and that any part of the amount demanded that consists of a service charge will not be treated as being due until such information is furnished by notice given by the landlord to the tenant.

The Beitov case decided that the wording of s47 means that where any written demand is given to the tenant the Landlord must put his or her actual address on the demand, not a care of address or agent’s address. A demand for service charges will be invalid without. The sanction for failing to give the actual landlords address in section 47 of the LTA 1987 is that service charges are not due.
However assured shorthold tenancies do not require the payment of service charges. The sanction for breach of section 47 is of no consequence.

By contrast, ASTs are affected by the provisions of s48 of the Act. The sanction for failing to comply with s48 is that rent is not treated as falling due BUT s48 requires only “an address in England and Wales at which notices may be served on him by the tenant”.

In short we disagree for two reasons:

1. Rent is covered by s48 – and where it is demanded the requirement is only to supply an address for service in England and Wales
2. Requiring tenants to serve notices on both landlord and agent is too onerous an obligation in residential AST lets. There is too much scope for the tenant to get confused and fail to serve on one or other address. Arguably such a term would be unfair and unenforceable, especially as Landlord only has to serve on the property.

Our position remains that it is fine to use an agent’s address for service in ASTs.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , , , ,

Forfeiture and the Courts

As many of our readers will be aware that since the passing of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 before a freeholder can take steps to forfeit a lease a determination is required. Section 168 of the 2002 Act gave jurisdiction to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal to determine if there was a breach of covenant under the lease. As with all Leasehold Valuation Tribunal claims a more limited cost regime applies although some leases may allow recovery of any freeholders costs as an administration charge.
Recently a case came to be decided by the High Court Queens Bench Division known as Cussens v. Realreed Limited [2013] EWHC 1229 (QB). The freeholder applied to the County Court for a declaration that the Leaseholder was in breach of her lease of two flats which she owned which she had sub let and which had then been used for the purposes of prostitution. It appears form the judgment that the unlawful use itself was not disputed. The County Court made a declaration that the lease terms had been breached and made an order for the leaseholder to pay the freeholders costs. The tenant then appealed challenging the County Court’s jurisdiction to make such a declaration and also against the order for costs.
It was argued that given the terms of section 168 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 it was for the LVT to make the determination that there has been a breach of the lease. The High Court determined that there is nothing to stop a freeholder seeking a declaration in the County Court for such a breach of covenant. It is worth pausing here to remember that potentially a County Court could of course refer the matter itself to the LVT to make a determination as to whether there has been a breach.
With regards to the question of costs the leaseholder tried to argue that it was inappropriate to make an order for costs given if application had been made to the LVT a more limited costs regime would have applied. This would have limited the costs which the LVT could have ordered the leaseholder to pay to the freeholder and the court should have had regard to this. The judge referred to the fact that prior to the appeal no objection had been taken to forum chosen and that no doubt the leaseholder had hoped to recover her own costs if she had been successful in resisting the landlords claim. All of this being said the Court determined that there was nothing wrong with the order made by the Judge at first instance. The Judge had made the declarations sort (which this appeal upheld) and it followed he could make an Order for costs as he had done. The barb in the tail for the landlord was that the High court Judge did say that it would be open to the leaseholder to argue in any costs assessment hearing that the costs should be limited to take account of the LVT costs regime.
So what does this all mean? It leaves open to freeholders the right to apply to the county court. Tactically careful consideration needs to be given and certainly if there is no clear provision within a lease for costs recovery then a freeholder may be better advised to apply to the court rather than the LVT. The plus of the LVT for a determination is that often a hearing and determination can be achieved quicker allowing a freeholder to have any breach dealt with sooner.

Certainly any leaseholder who finds themselves threatened with any form of breach of covenant declaration or determination proceedings would be well advised to take urgent advice. Both to consider the merits of any such claim and the best tactics to adopt. A declaration can have fairly devastating effects given that ultimately it could lead to a forfeiture of the leasehold interest leaving the leaseholder owning nothing and potentially still owing any mortgage or other loan they had taken out!

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

Leasehold Valuation Tribunals, are they no cost forums?

Over the past year or so we have read some of the debate that has been ongoing over the recoverability of legal costs at the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT).

The starting point as with most Tribunals in England and Wales is that they are a none costs shifting forum which in simple terms means that each party is responsible for their own costs and the Tribunal will not order the losing party to pay the other sides costs. This means that any costs which either side incurs will be for them themselves to pay. In the LVT under the current rules (which are due to change in July when the LVT becomes part of the new Lower Tribunal (Lands Chamber)) if a party has behaved vexatiously or unreasonably the LVT can order that that party pays to the other side up to £500 towards any costs which have been incurred. Such Orders are rare.

The situation is however muddied in that in disputes before the LVT, which will inevitably involve Leaseholders and Freeholders, there will be a contractual relationship between the parties being the lease. Often leases will include a clause allowing a Freeholder to recover legal costs in connection with disputed service charges as a management expense. If so it may be recovered under the service charge and so even though the Freeholder has perhaps “lost” at the LVT the costs they have incurred can be recovered from all the Leaseholders. Also some leases contain clauses that allow a Freeholder in certain circumstances to recover LVT costs directly from any one Leaseholder who sought to bring a challenge as an Administration Charge.

What this means is that Leaseholders as we have said in previous posts need to carefully consider what the terms of their leases provide. If the lease does not allow recovery then the risk may only be the £500 if a Freeholder can satisfy an LVT that conduct was frivolous or unreasonable but care needs to be taken.

So what can Leaseholders do? It is important to remember that LVTs are simply creatures of statute and so have to operate within the framework that Parliament has laid down for them. Certain safeguards are in place. In particular it is possible for Leaseholders to make an application under section 20C of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to seek limitation of the costs which a Freeholder can recover as a service charge expense. The LVT has broad powers and discretion. It is vital that Leaseholders make such an application and think carefully about the reasons. These do not simply have to be limited as to whether they win (since submissions will often be made before the LVT has issued its decision) but should explain why the application was necessary to be made or responded to and in what ways the Freeholder may have been unreasonable such as failing to enter into constructive dialogue etc.

The LVT can then look to make such an Order. This may prevent the recovery of whole or part or even fix the amount which can be recovered. This would then bind a Freeholder in respect of recovery via the service charges whatever the terms of the lease may provide. If however the LVT declines to make an Order the Leaseholder can still challenge the reasonableness although this challenge itself may incur costs.

With regards to recovery from a Leaseholder directly this would be an Administration charge and again can be challenged as to reasonableness and the payability via the LVT. For challenges of this type it is worth taking advice on the specific terms of the lease and what may be considered reasonable. This will involve looking at the specific lease terms and then going on to look at the circumstances as to how the costs were incurred and what work was undertaken.

As can be seen in terms of the rules of the LVT it is fundamentally a no costs forum (and the change in July to the new Tribunal is not likely to fundamentally change this). The problem is that everyone is bound by their lease terms as to what can be recovered. In the throes of purchasing a property all too little time is often given to looking at what can and cannot be recovered under a service charge. A good understanding as to the terms of your lease and your ownership can prove worth its weight in the long run.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , , ,

Read the Lease!

A recent decision of the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) in Sadd v. Brown [2012] UKUT 438 (LC) stands to remind us that it is always important that you read and understand the terms of the lease.

The case was about the recoverability of an insurance premium. In the past all parties to the lease had assumed that it allowed the recoverability of the costs incurred by the landlord in insuring the building. At first instance the LVT decided that whilst the amount charged was reasonable on the true construction of the lease the premium was not payable by the leaseholder. It would appear that this point was not itself taken by the parties but raised by the LVT itself.

Once again the Upper Tribunal made clear to the LVT that it is not for them to take points and certainly not without referring the issue to the parties for their comments. If we stop there it is important that all parties in approaching the LVT bear in mind that panels are now less likely to raise issues of their own motion and so parties must make sure they have properly considered what points they may have in their favour. The Upper Tribunal has made clear over the past 18 months that the LVT should be slow to interfere and raise points if not raised specifically by the parties.

The above being said the Upper Tribunal took the view given the landlord as part of its appeal had put forward its arguments it was reasonable for the upper Tribunal to determine the issue. The landlord contended that it was unusual for a lease to not include a term allowing the landlord to recover the cost of the insurance. He relied upon the fact that until this application both parties had assumed that the lease did allow recoverability. The landlord invited the tribunal to imply such a term into the contract relying upon Liverpool City Council v. Irwin [1977] AC 239. The Tribunal took the view that given this was a lease containing detailed provisions regulating the parties relationship and on the face of it contained all terms it was not appropriate to imply such a clause. Further the Tribunal took the view that it was not necessary to imply such a term to give effect to any other terms of the lease in the way that often the term “reasonable” is implied. Finally the tribunal decided that it was not necessary to imply such a term to give business efficacy to the lease (although we are sure the landlord did not agree with this!).

As a result the appeal was dismissed and the landlord could not recover the cost of insurance as the lease did not allow recoverability. As we have said before it is vital that a careful review of the lease is made. Anyone taking on block management should always ask to see all the leases and check with the Land Registry that no variations have been granted. Only when you have done this will you be sure as to what can and cannot be recovered as any failings are likely to find themselves laid at the managing agent’s door if they have not previously been drawn to the freeholder’s attention

Filed under: England & Wales, , , ,

Consultation for Repairs on Long Leaseholds

We all await the Supreme Court ruling in the Daejan v. Benson case which hopefully we will receive judgement on soon. Shortly before Christmas the High Court Chancery Division got in on the act. It ruled in the case of Phillips v. Francis [2012]EWHC 3650 (Ch).
In brief the facts are that this related to a holiday park consisting of various chalets let on long leases. A dispute had arisen over charges levied by the freeholder. From the point of view of this article the interesting point was whether the consultation requirements imposed by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 as amended applied to “repair” costs. The issue was what are “qualifying works”.

The court considered the definition of “qualifying works” set out in the Act which provides that these are “works on a building or any other premises..”. Consideration was also given to a case decided prior to the current legislative framework being Martin v. Maryland Estates [1999] 2 EGLR 53 but this case was discounted as being of relevance.

Whilst only a High Court decision, the decision itself was given by the Chancellor of the High Court . He determined that all works should be bought into the account to calculate the contribution and then apply the limit. In essence what this means is that all repair works carried out in any service charge period should be lumped together and then if any one leaseholders contribution exceeds £250 then consultation should be undertaken. The Judge said it is not appropriate to simply break the works down into what he termed “sets of qualifying works”.

This means that where a leaseholder has been presented with a service charge account with any item over £250 including for repairs undertaken in a twelve month period they may be able to challenge this to have a cap applied. Typically repair costs in an account may be made up of various relatively minor ongoing maintenance issues which have arisen during that period none of which it was imagined individually would require consultation.

For Landlords this poses a dilemma. For past charges they need to see if challenged. If so Landlords will then need to consider whether they look to make an application for dispensation from consultation. Currently, whilst the outcome of Daejan is awaited, this is certainly not a forgone conclusion. Alternatively every year they will need to consult on the process they will seek to adopt for repairs, although practically it is difficult to see how this can properly be undertaken. It may be that this decision itself will be appealed.

What is clear is that this year is going to see much debate on the question of consultation. It appears to us as the regulation over consultation grows and becomes more complex it is likely that the costs charged by Managing Agents (either for management in general and consultation in particular) are likely to rise to take account of the increased work and the risks involved in providing this service.

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

So what is a “house”?

The Supreme Court consisting of a panel of seven Justices handed down its Judgement in the cases of Day v. Hosebay and Howard de Walden Estates Limited v. Lexgorge Limited [2012] UKSC 41 on 10th October 2012.

This was an appeal to determine what is a “house” under the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 with regards to the enfranchisement of houses. The Act is in place to allow the owners of leasehold houses to enfranchise and thereby purchase their freeholds. Issues arose as a result of amendments made under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 which removed the previous residence requirement. As a result of these amendments companies which owned leaseholds and those sub-letting or owning as a second home were able to exercise rights under the legislation.

In the Judgement (given by Lord Carnwath and agreed by all six other Justices) consideration was given to the intentions of Parliament in making such amendments and highlighting that the purpose was to address perceived flaws in the “residential leasehold system” and not in the wider sense.

In all of the lower courts it was found that the buildings in question were a “house” and so could enfranchise.

The property in Hosebay at the date of service of the relevant notice was being used as a self-catering hotel. In Lexgorge they were being used as offices. The Court said that this was not “a house reasonably so called”. Simply because the properties looked like a house and might sometimes be referred to as a house did not displace the fact that their use was entirely commercial.

What seems clear is that the Supreme Court has taken account of the intention of Parliament. The legislation should apply to properties genuinely being used as residential accommodation and simply because of the amendments made by the 2002 Act this should not be extended to allow buildings which may originally have been “houses” but are now used for commercial purposes being able to enfranchise. Undoubtedly the great estates in London and other property companies will be breathing a sigh of relief.

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

Service charges: Reasonableness of charges caused by breaches of other leaseholders covenants

An interesting case recently came before the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) relating to what is the position when service charge costs have risen because of the breach by some leaseholders of their covenants.

 In the case of Liverpool Quays Management Limited v. Carol Ann Moscardini [2012] UKUT 244(LC) The President of the Upper Tribunal considered these points and various other points on appeal from the LVT.

 The facts were that this development in Liverpool was directly adjacent to the Liverpool Echo Arena which opened in 2008.  As a result of this and the fact that the development was experiencing problems from short term lettings of the flats the cost of providing security for the estate escalated significantly with the costs approximately doubling.  The Respondent challenged these sums and the LVT at first instance disallowed part reducing the amount to that of previous years stating that there had been “excessive increases over previous years”.

 The leases contained no covenant against short term letting although they did contain the usual provisions re nuisance and covenants that the properties only be used as private apartments and not for trade or business.  There was a covenant for enforceability by the management company but Mrs Moscardini had not exercised this.  Mrs Moscardini submitted that the real reason for the increase was as a result of the management company not properly policing and controlling short term and hotel type lettings leading to various problems including a large number of incidents involving the police.

 Invoices were produced by the management company and a director explained how the contractor had been chosen.  The President was satisfied that the increase was due to the opening of the arena and the problems with the short term lets.  He was satisfied that the response was adequate and the service provided was of a reasonable standard.  Whilst he recommended that the management company did look at taking some enforcement action he did accept that there response in increasing security was proportionate (and recoverable under the lease) and even if they had taken action this may not have successfully dealt with the problem during the period in question. Such action was a long term solution and would not alter the need for security.

 What is clear is that the President in reaching his decision was trying to balance the invidious position the management company found themselves in.  This is a not unusual situation where leaseholders are faced with a proportion of leaseholders not sticking to the terms of the lease.  For the management company they may not have funds available to take action directly themselves without some mandate from the leaseholders.  Most leases today have a mutual enforceability covenant which can be relied upon although as in this case it may require the leaseholder to offer some form of costs indemnity.   It would have been interesting to see if the decision would have been different if Mrs Moscardini had looked to exercise this or the application was supported by a wider group of leaseholders who could show a pattern of complaints to the management company.  The implication is that it might have been different if the management company had not then acted to deal with this nuisance. 

 Clearly if you are faced with a situation where you believe service charges are increasing due to breaches of covenant pressure should be bought to bear upon the management company to take action.  You should try and involve other leaseholders for them also to complain and require action by the freeholder or management company.  Records should be kept.  Whilst some freeholders will then take action if asked for an indemnity or some money on account it would always be wise to take advice to check what your liability is going to be or what action you can expect.

 One of those situations where perhaps it is important to understand fully your lease not just for what you can do but what you can prevent other doing!

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

Appeals from the LVT and the Upper Chamber (Lands Tribunal)

Applications to the LVT appear to be on the rise.  Whilst currently the rules for these Tribunals are subject to consultation pending the formation of the Lower Tribunal (Lands Tribunal) it is worth reminding everyone about the current rules.

 Once you receive a decision of the LVT you have 21 days from the date when it was sent to apply for leave.  The Tribunal has produced a standard form for making such an application although this is not mandatory.  This time scale is quite short and it is open for a party within this period to request an extension of time together with reasons which the LVT will then need to consider.

 Generally as with most applications for leave to appeal the original panel will be reluctant to grant leave unless it is a clear cut case or there is some particular point of principle.  The reasoning behind this is that generally it is felt that the appellate court should determine what work it is hearing.

 If leave is granted the appeal continues to the Upper Tribunal.  If not granted it is then open to the parties, again within 21 days, to renew the application to the Upper Tribunal who will have the final say.  It is worth remembering that appeals to the Upper Tribunal can be by way of re-hearing in appropriate cases.

 Once a decision has been made by the Upper Tribunal this in effect is a final determination.  The Court of Appeal has recently considered the matte3r in the case of The Wellcome Trust Limited v. 19-22 Onslow Gardens Freehold Limited [2012]EWCA Civ 1024.  In this case the Court of Appeal reiterated that there was no right of appeal to the Court of Appeal. A challenge to the decision should be made by way of application for judicial review in the Administrative Court.

 So that is the process if you need to appeal.

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

Forfeiture of Residential Long Leases

For sometime there has been debate as to whether a County Court default Judgment satisfied the requirements of Section 168 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 (“the 2002 Act”) and section 81 of the Housing Act 1996 (“the 1996 Act”)

The section of the 2002 Act provides that a Landlord cannot serve a forfeiture notice in respect of a tenant’s breach of covenant until a Court or Tribunal has determined that the breach has occurred. The 2002 Act introduced a special procedure for the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (“the LVT”)to determine breaches of covenant. The 1996 Act provided that there needed to be a final determination or agreement before forfeiture could take place.

Many landlords continued as part of their debt collecting processes to issue proceedings in the County Court and obtain default judgements which they then relied upon to seek forfeiture. If claims for service charges in the County Court are defended then often they will be transferred to the LVT for a determination. Until recently it was not clear as to whether a default judgement was a final determination with two results in cases, one saying it was a default judgement and the other the opposite.

In Church Commissioners v. Koyale Enterprises and Thaleshwar [2012] 21 EG 96 at first instance the District Judge determined that a default judgement was not a final determination and therefore section 81 of the 1996 Act was not satisfied. The landlord appealed.

The matter then came before HHJ Dight at Central London County Court. He ruled that where a default judgement had been entered the issues were to be treated as “determined” between the parties and that for the purposes of section 81 of the 1996 Act a default judgement was a determination.

In his view the leaseholders had been provided with an opportunity to mount a challenge to the charges if they had chosen to do so. Simply deciding that a default judgement was a “final determination “did not prevent the leaseholders form subsequently challenging (e.g. making an application to set aside the judgement). The judge was concerned that requiring an actual hearing in circumstances where no defence was filed would be unfair on landlords and increase pressure on the courts. For all of these reasons the judge decided that a default judgement was a final determination.

It seems that the judge was perhaps swayed by the practical difficulties that would arise if a default judgement was not a final determination. This may require landlords in service charge cases to require the Court to hold a hearing even when the leaseholders had not looked to defend. Clearly at a time when the Court Service is under enormous pressure this was not appealing particularly given the whole process of seeking a judgement does allow the defendant an opportunity to appeal.

What this case means is that in respect of service charge arrears recovery freeholders and landlords can rely upon County Court default judgements as the basis for forfeiture. For landlords this system is seen as relatively quick and user friendly for the majority of claims which are not defended. If a landlord thinks a matter may be defended they may still wish to consider whether to use the County Court or the LVT and both options are open. Hopefully we do now have some clarity on this difficult issue although the Courts still remain reluctant to forfeit a residential lease for what are often modest service charge arrears when considered against the value of the leasehold interest.

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

Are In House Solicitors Costs recoverable as service charges or administration fees?

In OM Property Management Limited v. Mr Olajide Olaleye [2012] UKUT 102 (LT) the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) had to consider whether legal costs incurred by an in house solicitor of dealing with an application to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (“LVT”) could be recoverable as a service charge. At first instance the LVT determined these were not a “cost” and therefore the legal costs were not recoverable. The respondent appealed this decision. They sought to rely upon Re Eastwood (deceased) [1985] 1 Ch 112 which set out the principle that the costs of an in house solicitor are to be dealt with on the same basis as if the costs were incurred by an independent solicitor. The Upper Tribunal agreed there was no reason to depart from this authority. As a result the costs incurred by the in house solicitor were recoverable.
What this decision means is that whilst a person is entitled to challenge the rate charged for work carried out, it will be up to the solicitor to demonstrate how the rate has been calculated and that it is fair. It is not correct or acceptable to say no costs are payable because an in house lawyer is used. Whilst this decision applied to a service charge dispute it seems there is no reason why this cannot apply to all matters under which costs may be an issue in a matter heard before the LVT. This decision is likely to apply to Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 claims for costs of enfranchisement or lease extensions made by a freeholder. Simply because a freeholder or managing agent decides to use in house expertise will not necessarily prevent them from recovering the reasonable costs of such an arrangement.

Filed under: England & Wales, ,

Beginners guide to Long Residential Leases

For many people the first property they buy is a long leasehold flat. This is, of course, the most complicated form of home ownership yet many people get little or no explanation of the realities of what is involved.

As a long leaseholder you are a type of tenant. Fundamentally you are bound by the terms of that tenancy which are are set out in the lease subject to the various statutory rules and regulations. Whilst very few leases are identical in form (even within the same development often) they will have various common elements and it is these that we intend to cover. There is however no substitute to obtaining proper comprehensive advice on your lease terms when you purchase and a good lawyer will do this.

The basics are how long is left on the lease and the rent. The first element is important since this can have a bearing on the cost of obtaining an extension ( see our blog post on this topic) and also how saleable the lease is. Generally in our experience a lease with less than 80 years remaining can now be difficult to sell. It is then important to know the rent. You should also check if there are any rent review provisions and make sure you understand these. It is important to bear in mind that the amount of ground rent will have a significant effect on the price of any extension.

The next important sections to understand relate to repairs: who is responsible for repairing in leases. Often you will be responsible for all internal repairs and redecorations and the landlord for all external. It is important to make sure these clauses are comprehensive and clear to prevent dispute later. Elements that are often worth checking are things such as who is responsible for repair and replacement of windows particularly if you are on a raised floor of a block.

Insurance: this will usually be the landlords responsibility subject to you repaying the costs. Again best to check although if you are getting a mortgage your lawyer should have checked this.

Service charges: often in practice for people living in a flat cause the most problems. It is important that you fully understand the clauses relating to these. Normally there will be a mechanism for determining the total service charge and then how this will be divided up and when you will be notified. Often theses clauses are detailed and require the landlord to jump through various hoops before the service charge is payable. Understanding these and what sums may be charged such as reserve funds will help you better understand one of the major liabilities of living in a flat and one which many leaseholders have no control over. Remember it is often for the freeholder to plan the schedule of works with little regard for the leaseholders personal circumstances.

Can I sublet and alter the flat? Again most leases will have specific provisions as to what is required. Many leases require you to obtain the consent of the freeholder in advance and you are likely to have to pay the freeholders costs. Again if this is an issue make sure you check and make enquiries of your freeholders.

The other thing that people often make assumptions about is what they are buying and rights they have over communal areas and grounds. Again it is best to check to make sure you are getting what you thought such as parking spaces and garages. Just because there is for example a garden does not automatically mean you will have right of access. Things like this should be explained to the lawyer who can check. Remember if you do not ask you may not get an answer!

This article provides an overview of what practically can be the important points for someone buying. Leases are often complex even for lawyers and so do not be afraid to ask. It is vital that you do understand this document since even in blocks where leaseholders own a share of the freehold you are required to comply with your lease.

Filed under: England & Wales, ,

Daejan v. Benson: where are we at?

We have made various posts about service charges etc on long leaseholds but still have questions asked about the infamous case of Daejan v. Benson.

To recap this started life as an LVT claim as to whether service charges were recoverable or if they were capped due to a failure by Daejan to comply with Service Charges (Consultation Requirements) (England) Regulations 2003 and subsequently on application to dispense with the need to consult under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. In both instances the LVT found against Daejan who appealed to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) who in November 2009 upheld the LVT decisions. So off went Daejan to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal gave its judgment in late January 2011 (Daejan Investments Ltd v Benson & Ors). The Court of Appeal upheld the previous decisions and therefore found against Daejan. Not put off Daejan sort leave to appeal to the Supreme Court and was granted the same at the end of June 2011. Currently we understand that the matter is likely to be heard by the Supreme Court and judgment given towards the end of this year.

So where does this leave the law? If you are a Landlord (whether arms length or residents) you must ensure that you comply with the Section 20 Consultation requirements to the letter! To do otherwise leaves you open to significant risk that costs will not be recoverable. As the law stands the financial consequences to the freeholder are not a matter for the LVT to take account of when considering prejudice. What needs to be shown is that a failure to comply must not cause any genuine prejudice to the Leaseholders. Whilst LVT’s may have substantial sympathy with residents management companies under the regulations no differentiation is made. LVT’s currently are likely to take a strict view given the fact that the current statement of the law was supported by both the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) and the Court of Appeal.

Landlords and those advising them do have options. Given the serious ramifications of a decision going against a Landlord after works have been completed it is worth bearing in mind that they can apply for a prior determination. When there is opposition to a scheme and it is clear from the conduct of some leaseholders that they will challenge the works this may mean despite there being a delay that an application should be made to the LVT. Given most LVT panels can hear cases with fairly short timescales ( assuming no appeals) then this can be factored in to the process and quotes etc can be obtained which perhaps have a longer “shelf life” than normal to allow for an application. It seems to us that given the various rules and regulations specifically allowing prior determinations this must be the prudent step given that it provides Landlords with a safety net to check compliance if any doubt in the Landlords or their agents mind.

We will of course have to see what view the Supreme Court takes and we will be sure to blog on this when we know more!

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , , ,

Charges for underletting: what is reasonable?

In February the President of the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) gave Judgement in respect of various charges for underlettings in a number of joined cases, the lead case being Holding and Management (Solitaire) Limited v. Norton [2012] UKUT 1 (LC).

Suffice to say the President substantially reduced the fees payable both for advance and retrospective consent determining the fee payable should be £40+VAT.

Obviously, as we have repeatedly blogged upon, the starting point is the lease terms and what they provide. Many leases however do provide that either some form of advance consent is required or notice must subsequently be given. Generally if such provisions exist there will be an express or implied right for the Freeholder/Managing Agent to charge a reasonable fee. In making such a charge they must ensure that the same is reasonable and also serve the appropriate Summary of Rights.

In this case the Agent asserted that a large amount of specific work was required including review by qualified legal staff. No specific hourly rate was given but it was suggested that in total the process took about 3 hours. There were no details as to what work had been done in each of the cases in question and the President took the view that the list of work was a list of everything that conceivably could be done and was not evidence of what was done.

Certainly many Leaseholders complain that the costs they are charged for underlettings are too high for the work undertaken whereas Landlords conversely argue they have very real duties to all Leaseholders (and sometimes the block Insurers) to exercise appropriate due diligence. What is clear is that the President accepted that a Landlord may need to carry out appropriate checks but in calculating the fee they need to be able to demonstrate, generally, and with regards to the specific case how the fee is justified. It seems that Landlords and their Agents should ensure that they consider whether they wish to maintain time records in case of challenge.

Whilst many people simply pay (even if begrudgingly) there is a route open for challenge of Administration fees and it may only be a question of time before some Landlords make their own advance applications to determine that the charges they make are reasonable.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, ,

Valuation in Lease Extensions and Enfranchisement: What is involved?

We are often asked to explain what is involved in the valuation issues relating to lease extensions and collective enfranchisements under the Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 (“the Act”). Whilst our first instincts are always to advise people that they need expert professional help from a Valuer experienced in these matters such as Valuer members of ALEP we thought it might be useful to explain the process. This article is simply an overview and a professional valuation should always be obtained.

The principles for what is required are set out in Schedule 6 for collective enfranchisements and Schedule 13 of the Act for lease extensions. The principles for each are similar and both are based on “market value”. The reality is that this idea of “market value” is somewhat false often involving various assumptions or discounts.

The valuation date for both types of claim are the date of actual service of the Notice. This fixes the date and the valuation is calculated having regard to the facts at that point in time. This can be very important particularly when some claims do not have the price actually determined until sometime (even years) later.

The price payable for a collective enfranchisement is the total of:
• The value of the freeholders interest if sold on the open market
• The freeholders share of the marriage value
• Any compensation.

For lease extensions it is:
• The reduction in the value of the freeholders interest
• The freeholders share of the marriage value
• Any compensation

So what does this all mean in practice? Taking the elements in turn:

Marriage value is the extra value which is gained when the freehold and leasehold interests come together. In collective enfranchisement claims it is only payable in respect of those flats actually taking part and for both following amendments made to the Act the amount payable is fixed at 50% of any marriage value unless the unexpired term exceeds 80 years in which case no addition is made for marriage value. It is this amendment which has meant that it is vital that Leaseholders and their advisers give careful regard to lease terms getting shorter.

Given marriage value only applies directly to those participating on occasion when you have a block with differing lease terms it may not be beneficial to have all leaseholders participating and it is worth highlighting that individual leaseholders cannot demand to be part of the process if others will not allow them to join. An amendment was made under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 which would have forced all leaseholders to be given an opportunity to join using what was known as Right to Enfranchise Companies (RTE) however these amendments were never given force and in fact are due to be repealed. That being said it is not unknown for notices to be served by only some leaseholders on the understanding that once they have the freehold others will then join in or be given an extension but if freeholders become aware of this (and they are entitled to have notice of any agreements made which may affect value) they can pursue recovery of any value they may have lost.

Compensation is then to compensate the freeholder for any direct loss of value, or reduction in the value of the interest as a result of the process. Often in the various cases this relates to what is known as “Hope Value”. Generally this tends to come into play with collective enfranchisement claims more so than lease extensions.

For the purposes of this article there are two main types. Firstly on enfranchisement claims it will be an amount assessed having regard to the marriage value that is likely at some point in the future to be paid by non-participating flats. A percentage is assessed as to what sums at a later date would be paid by these leaseholders for a lease extension. The second is for loss of any redevelopment potential. The most common scenario is when a freeholder asserts that they could or would be able to build some additional units at the property. It will be a question of looking at all the evidence such as any planning history and assessments which have been undertaken to see whether this is real or imagined to then calculate what value should be attached to this.

Finally there is the value of the Freeholders interest. There are two main parts to this. The capitalised value of the ground rent and the value of the freehold with vacant possession deferred until the end of the unexpired term.

For the ground rent it is a question of working out what the total value of the ground rent is worth at the valuation date. This is a formula calculating the current annual ground rent income, assessing the type of percentage return an investor would want and then calculating the value given the number of years the landlord would be entitled to this income under the current lease(s).

As for the freehold this is a question of calculating the unimproved vacant possession value in what is referred to as a “No Act” world. Generally this will be less than the actual value of the Unit. The idea is to calculate the amount an investor would pay now on the basis that at the end of the lease term they would recover vacant possession. Again once the vacant possession value is calculated then a percentage of this is calculated for what would be paid at the valuation date of that possibility occurring.

These amounts are then added up to give the premium which can be payable.

The process is complicated and does require a thorough understanding of all the valuation principles not least since many of the percentages and rates applied to the actual valuation numbers are calculated having regard to various tables and graphs. The whole area of valuation has given rise to a substantial body of case law as to what percentages should be applied in what situations and almost every aspect of the valuation formula has at one time or another led to cases in the House of Lords (as it then was) or the Supreme Court.

With good advice these issues can be readily tackled and a valuation produced. Given that valuation is an art rather than a science usually you will be advised as to a best, worst and likely figure since as with all valuations there is always room for negotiation!

If you need help or further guidance we would be happy to help.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, ,

Missing Landlord: an alternative solution

Many of you will be aware that when a long residential Leaseholder of a flat has a missing Landlord the Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 provides a remedy. The process involved requires a Court application and then a determination of the price by the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal using the valuation principles under the 1993 Act, as amended. This means that if the Leaseholders hold leases with less than 80 years remaining then they will have to pay an element of marriage value.

Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 Part III there is an alternative method which may be used. This may be a better route due to the valuation formula used which is believed to be more favourable to Leaseholders in that generally they will not have to pay marriage value.

Under the 1987 Act if there is a building consisting of 2 or more flats held by qualifying Leaseholders (i.e. long leases) and they amount to more than 2/3rds of the total number of flats then the Act may apply (section 25). The commercial parts of the building must not exceed 50% of the total internal floor space ( so further reason why this method can be used rather than the 1993 Act). Subject to these then the 1987 Act will apply.

The starting point is then to look at Sections 27, 28 and 29 of the 1987 Act. Under Section 27(3) when the Landlord is missing an application to the Court can be made to dispense with the service of a Notice. The application can then be made for an Acquisition Order and under Section 29 if the Landlord is not carrying out their management function, which includes repair, maintenance and insurance of the property, as required by the lease (and almost by definition if there is a missing landlord and no intermediate Management Company they will not be) then the Court may make an Acquisition Order. The Order may be on such terms as the Court thinks fit but they will refer the question of price to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal.

Under S. 33 where the Landlord is missing then the Senior President of the Tribunal shall select a surveyor to determine the price payable. This will be on terms that the interest may realise if sold on the open market and that the assumption that none of the Leaseholders were seeking to buy. Generally it is believed that in instances where marriage value would be payable under the 1993 Act this may be a more favourable valuation method.

The LVT will then make appropriate directions as to the price and other terms. The court may then execute the transfer and subject to paying the monies into Court the acquisition can be created.

Whilst all routes involving missing Landlords are perhaps cumbersome it is worth thinking which route is best. Discussion with the professional advisers is best at an early stage to consider fully the best valuation method. From a time perspective given the actual processes are similar then little can be gained. It is also worth bearing in mind that in instances where a Manager has been appointed under the 1987 Act then provided the Manager has been appointed for not less than 2 years then this method can also be available.

If you have such a situation then we would be happy to advise.

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

LEASEHOLDERS RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL

As many of you will no doubt be aware in relation to long leasehold property there is generally a right of first refusal to the freehold title when it comes to be sold. The purpose of this blog post is to give a brief overview of the framework.

Part 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 contains the statutory provisions governing when Leaseholders have this right, the process to be adopted and the penalties for non-compliance. Certainly any freeholder and their advisers before dealing with the freehold title need to consider whether the provisions will apply.

So what is required?

For the Act to apply the premises must contain 2 or more qualifying flats ( ie residential flats with lease terms originally of more than 21 years) and the number of such flats must be more than 50% of the total number of flats and there is not more than 50% of the floor area of the building occupied by commercial parts.

Next consideration needs to be given as to whether the disposal is “relevant”. Generally an outright transfer of the freehold title would be covered as would any other estate/disposal save for certain specific exceptions. The most relevant examples of exceptions are: any lease of an individual flat, disposal by a liquidator or trustee in bankruptcy, disposal to an associated company or disposal under the Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. Full details of relevant disposals are set out in section 4 of the 1987 Act.

If the Landlord is intending to make a disposal he then needs to serve a Notice. Often these are simply referred to as Section 5 Notices being the section of the 1987 Act detailing the requirements. The Act lists various types of Notice which need to be served dependant upon the circumstances of the disposal e.g by auction or private treaty. In general terms the Notice tells the Leaseholders what the Landlord intends to do. If then the Leaseholders want to purchase, not less than 50% of the Leaseholders collectively, must serve a response notice by a date given in the Landlords original Notice. They can then force the Landlord to sell the interest to them on the same terms as the intended disposal. The time limits are strict and if no notice is served by the Leaseholders the Landlord can proceed with their intended disposal provided they do so within 12 months of the date by which the tenants should have replied.

As can be seen Landlords have been known to serve a section 5 Notice even when they have no intention of selling to try and draw out of Leaseholders whether they can be persuaded to buy and often to pay a higher price than perhaps a collective enfranchisement would achieve. For this reason Leaseholders are certainly advised to take professional advice on any Notice served to consider whether a purchase is the best way to proceed for them.

If a Leaseholder does become aware that a disposal has taken place without Notice being served then there are various courses of action open. Firstly this may be a matter which could be reported to the local Tenancy Relations Officer as the Landlord will have committed an offence for which they could be prosecuted and if found guilty fined. Secondly the Leaseholders can (assuming there is the requisite majority) in effect require the Purchaser to dispose of the interest they acquired to the Leaseholders on the same terms as per their contract with the Landlord. Once again there are strict time limits and so as soon as the Leaseholders become aware of a disposal they should urgently take advice as generally they will only have 6 months to enforce their rights under the 1987 Act.

As with many aspects of long residential Leasehold Law the process is relatively complicated and full of pitfalls for the unwary. Both Landlords and Leaseholders should look to take advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure that their respective positions are properly protected.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, ,

Owner Managed Freeholds

Another case involving Owner Managed Freeholds has recently been decided by the Court of Appeal in Newman v. Framewood Manor Management Co Ltd.

In this case the Various leaseholders were in a typical way shareholders in a Company which managed the development. It would appear that this was a smart development which had various communal leisure facilities which had given rise to various problems. The various leases had covenants governing the provision of the various leisure facilities by the Management Company. As all too often can be the case various problems arose concerning the leisure facilities and repairs and replacement. The costs involved looked as though they would be considerable and many leaseholders seem to have had little appetite to incur these costs.

The Company then after various meetings at which a majority of Leaseholders agreed with the Companies proposals made various changes. Sadly Mrs. Newman, as Leaseholder, did not agree and proceedings were bought for specific performance and damages.

The lease contained a provision which appeared to exonerate the Company from damages claims if these were not covered by Insurance. The Court of Appeal found firmly that in there view this clause did not prevent a leaseholder bringing a claim for loss of amenity under the lease.

The Court then went on to consider the various individual claims. Whilst it did not award specific performance (although certain works had been undertaken or undertakings were given by the Company) damages were awarded. What is clear from the decision is that Owner Managed Freeholds as with any Freehold/Leasehold relationship are bound by the terms of the lease. In practice it is vital that all Freeholders have regard to the lease terms. If services are to be provided under the lease simply because a majority is happy with a change that of itself will not be sufficient to just proceed as the Freeholder will be open to claims as in this case.

That is not to say that the situation cannot be resolved. It is always open to parties to mutually agree variations (if all agree) or in certain circumstances can an application be made to the LVT to vary the terms of the lease.

As we have flagged before in various articles it is vital that Freeholders and their advisers consider the Lease terms and check exactly what they allow or provide. A failure to do so can be expensive for all and whilst it seems in the case referred to there is a separate costs appeal undoubtedly all sides will have spent large sums given the matter has got as far as the Court of Appeal. PainSmith Solicitors are happy to advise Freeholders or Leaseholders on the obligations under a lease and generally with regards to this complicated area of law.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

Can Freeholders charge for Consenting to Underletting?

Most long residential leases today contain some provision about underletting. Often the clause in the lease will require the Leaseholder to obtain the prior consent of the Freeholder or their managing agent. It is when this consent is sought that problems can arise.

As ever the starting point should be the lease. Many leases have a specific provision indicating something along the lines of ” not to underlet without the consent in writing of the Landlord such consent not to be unreasonably withheld”. In those circumstances an application should be made to the Landlord prior to each and every subletting. Recently the Lands Tribunal in the cases of Holding And Management (Solitaire) Ltd v Norton and Bradmoss Ltd, Re 10 Meadow Court considered whether Landlords were entitled to make a charge in such situations.

The LVT at first instance had determined that the Landlord could not recover costs. Consideration was given to Section 19(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927. The Lands Tribunal made clear that in their opinion Section 19(1) allowed a Landlord as a reasonable condition of granting Consent to require payment of their reasonable costs. Further the Lands Tribunal went on to confirm that in its opinion such a charge would then be a variable administration charge and the LVT had power under Schedule 11 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 to determine the reasonableness of the charge. The answer is therefore that the Landlord can recover these costs subject as ever to the lease terms.

At this stage the Lands Tribunal has requested submissions as to the reasonableness of the charges proposed in these various cases and we await further guidance. Clearly Freeholders will have to justify each and every charge they make and to be able to explain how the charge has been calculated both as to the particular development and their own organisation. Hopefully some further guidance will be offered as this is an area which many investor leaseholders often feel that Freeholders simply use as a mechanism to charge high fees to simply profit from the freehold rather than to cover any reasonable costs which they may have incurred. A case of watch this space ….

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , , ,

LEASE INTERPRETATION: WHAT DO COURTS AND TRIBUNALS LOOK AT?

We have over the past few months referred in our articles to the fact that the starting point for LVTs and Courts in leasehold disputes is the lease itself.

Often residential leases were drafted many years ago and are in a format which even to professionals can be difficult to assess but what are the steps that the Court and LVT go through to determine the terms?

Initially they will go through the document. For a long residential lease all of the terms must be in writing. Some terms will be very clear and easily interpreted. This will often be the case in respect of terms over payment of ground rent and insurance. Certainly for any lease which has changed hands over recent years it should be in a format covering all the major areas such as rent, insurance, service charge, repairs etc as conveyancing solicitors should be checking that the lease complies with Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) requirements. These requirements require these fundamental terms to be covered in a clear and satisfactory manner.

What is often more complicated is the extent of a clause. This can be particularly true of service charge clauses. Many of these clauses are written in a very general manner with some kind of “sweeping up” clause whose function is meant to be to cover everything not expressly stated. Be warned they do not always work!

The general principle is that clauses are given a meaning which a reasonable person would understand and words are given there ordinary meaning. Courts will not tie themselves in knots in carrying out an interpretation even if the natural meaning gives a strange result. If this is the case other remedies may be open to the parties such as rectification if they can fulfil the grounds. The Courts and LVT will not imply terms into an agreement and will expect all the terms to be present in the document relied upon.

If then a clause is still unclear and or could be interpreted in a number of ways generally it will be decided in a way most beneficial to the person not seeking to rely upon that clause. This is due to the fact that the burden of proof will be upon the person relying upon the clause to prove that meaning. It is for this reason that “sweeping up” clauses often do not achieve the desired effect.

Usually the terms are clear but it is vital that proper consideration is given to the terms. Anyone buying a lease (or a freehold) should understand what the rights and responsibilities under the lease are. Certainly as can be seen in the published LVT decisions often in service charges Freeholders and their Agents try and argue that it would be perverse to not allow them to recover management fees, accountancy fees etc and whilst a Panel may have sympathy if the lease does not cover this the hands of the LVT are bound.

Again early consideration of the contractual terms can prevent disputes and if in doubt parties would be well advised to take specialist advice to avoid costly Court or LVT cases.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

How to prepare for an LVT Hearing in respect of service charges

For many people having an LVT hearing can be a daunting prospect and there first experience of dealing with a Court or Tribunal particularly in an unrepresented capacity.

For the purpose of this blog post we are specifically referring to applications made under Section 27A of the Landlord and Tenant act 1985 although the principles apply to all LVT cases.

These applications can be made by either the Freeholder or a Leaseholder and the purpose is to determine whether a charge is payable and the reasonableness of the same. In making its determination the LVT will have regard to the terms of the lease and then whether the statutory processes have been complied with.

Whoever makes the application is required to complete an application form. Copies of the forms and guidance notes may be obtained from the Justice department website.

As part of the application you should specify exactly what it is you are seeking. It is important to make this clear so that the LVT is clear what is being sort. Often if the Freeholder this will be the whole of particular years and if the Leaseholder they may wish to object to specific charges. This should be set out clearly and specify which service charge years are being referred to.

The application should have attached to it a copy of any relevant lease and other relevant documents. If it is the Freeholder we would recommend this should include:

• Any and all service charge demands with summaries of tenants rights etc as appropriate
• Copy of relevant lease
• Copy of any Consultation documents etc

If it is the Leaseholder then they should attach:

• Copies of demands received
• Copy lease
• Copy of any consultation notices you have received
• Copies of any correspondence disputing the sums

Remember that the LVT when they first look at the application will want to understand what the claim is about. This will assist the LVT in issuing Directions or listing for a Pre Trial Review (PTR).

If there is an oral pre trial review the LVT will want to use this to identify the issues and then issue clear guidance as to what should happen. It is crucial that both sides consider the case from this point of view. The LVT will not be deciding the case then but making sure all is in order for a hearing.

It is vital that parties follow the Directions given. The time scales are there to help all parties. You should read the Directions carefully and make sure you understand what is required. In particular the fact that you need to supply copies of all documents you will look to rely upon for proving your case. Often the Directions are detailed and very specific for the matters in dispute particularly if there has been an oral PTR.

Generally the LVT cannot refuse to admit documents (even if late) but must give everyone ample opportunity to consider. This could result in a hearing being adjourned if there is a late submission and possibly an application being made that such behaviour should result in a costs penalty (the LVT can order costs of up to £500 a party). If a party attends at a hearing and tries to submit late documents the LVT will consider whether it can give a short adjournment for the other party to consider the documents but the hearing itself could be adjourned. The LVT will not be happy with submissions on the day unless there is a very good reason given the effect this can have on the LVT being able to decide the matter.

It is vital that when preparing for a hearing that a proper bundle is prepared. This should include an Index and the documents should all be paginated in order and placed in a folder. These bundles must be supplied in good time to the LVT office so that the Panel has a reasonable opportunity to consider before the hearing. This will assist the LVT in considering the matter and whilst the panel should not draw any adverse inferences from a late submission they are only human. Late submissions and badly prepared bundles will not assist your case! It is worth asking someone to consider your bundle and submissions to see if a person who knows nothing about your case can properly understand the points you are making and can follow clearly the documents and submissions you want the LVT to understand.

Remember that at the hearing often the LVT will raise there own questions and points and so even if the other side has not raised something the LVT may still do so itself. This is particularly true of making sure that demands comply with the various statutory requirements and or consultation when required.

The LVT panel will usually not have met until the day of the hearing but will have been sent out the bundles etc. If they have received these in good time they will be better prepared for dealing with the case. The LVT will normally be proactive in managing the case in front of them and this is assisted by timely receipt of documents in good order. The panel is there to decide the matter and a case is always helped by good preparation on the part of the parties.

If in doubt about anything then you should refer to the Clerk at the LVT dealing with your case. Whilst they cannot give you legal advice they can help with understanding what is required or that you need to do.

LVTs are used to having parties appear in front of them unrepresented and pride themselves on being user friendly. For both Freeholders and Leaseholders they can effectively deal with matters in a timely way particularly with a well presented case.

We are always happy to advise and if necessary represent Freeholders and Leaseholders with all such applications.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

Getting it wrong can be expensive….

When a landlord wants to begin work on a building it is important to follow the full section 20 consultation process, as shown by a recent decision from the Upper Tribunal of the LVT; Stenau Properties Limited and Karin Leek, Klaus Reckling and others.

Stenau Properties Ltd had written to the leaseholders informing them of the consultation requirements and had subsequently held a meeting with the leaseholders. However, the impression formed by the leaseholders was that their views would not be considered in the selection process.

Stenau Properties argued that there had been very little if any prejudice to the leaseholders and therefore the fact that the consultation process had not been followed to the letter was not important. However, although the LVT found that the service charges were reasonable, it held that the leaseholders, being the people who would ultimately be paying, must have confidence that they had some influence in the decision making process. It also held where there is a significant breach of the consultation requirements, there is likely to have been genuine prejudice whether or not the final choice of contractor would have been the same.

The Lands Tribunal confirmed this view and went on to say that even if the failure to properly consult was due to a misunderstanding of the process or incompetence that could not excuse a breach of the requirements. As a result of this decision, Stenau Properties will only be able to recover £250 from each leaseholder.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, ,

Appointment of a Manager instead of RTM

The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 introduced the new none fault Right to Manage legislation.

The idea was that if you had not less than 50% of the Qualifying Tenants interested they could form an RTM company and then take over the day to day management. This was seen as an alternative to enfranchisement or even a stepping stone to the same.

However as with enfranchisement whilst at first this can seem a good idea it is worth thinking about what in practice this will mean. In particular since RTMs involve leaseholders working together this is not always appropriate for reasons similar to those given in our earlier blog post on the Cons attached to enfranchisement. In particular you may all need to work together and make difficult decisions about the management of the building.

Sometimes the leaseholders find themselves in a position where they all agree that the current management of the building is not working. Often this can be down to neglect or actual mismanagement. Whilst there may be differing opinions as to the way to move forward it may be possible to use the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (“The Act”) to impose some control.

The starting point is for one or more leaseholders to serve a Notice (section 22 of the Act) upon the Landlord and any Managing Agent appointed. This should set out the defaults complained of and invite them to set out how they intend to remedy the same. A reasonable period must be allowed.

Once that has expired the Leaseholders can then apply to the LVT under section 24 of the Act for the appointment of the manager. It will be for the Leaseholders to propose a professional managing agent who is prepared to accept an instruction. Generally the LVT will issue Directions and these will require the proposed agent to confirm that they agree to being appointed and ask them to confirm the terms upon which they would be appointed, provide a CV and other information. There will also be Directions requiring the Leaseholders to file evidence of the breaches complained of and for the Landlord/Current agent to reply. We pause at this point to highlight that this is a fault based procedure and the LVT must be satisfied that there are breaches and it is just and convenient to make an order.

There will then be a hearing (note generally the LVT has no powers to deal with matters summarailly) and the LVT will hear evidence. Usually they will require the proposed manager to attend and give evidence so that the LVT is satisfied that they are a proper person and able to adequately manage. The Manager is an appointee of the LVT and will operate pursuant to the terms of their Order.

Once appointed it will then be for the Manager to manage. They must ensure compliance with all terms of the lease and of course statute and will normally be expected to manage in accordance with one of the recommended codes of good practice for management.

The manager should act independently to pursue his or her duties. This often can be useful as the obligation to make decisions etc as to the management will be down to the manager and not the Leaseholders (or Freeholder). This means that sometimes difficulties can arise and the Manager is unsure what to do. If the terms of the appointment under the Order appointing do not make clear they are entitled to make application to the LVT to seek further Directions.

As can be seen whilst RTM provides a useful tool for leaseholders it is not suitable for all circumstances particularly today in some blocks which have many absentee leaseholders. Appointment of a manager can ensure that a building is properly managed particularly when the leaseholders (or some) are satisfied that it is not being done properly but they themselves do not want to become involved in the management or cannot agree on exactly how the building should be managed.

As with all things relating to residential Landlord and Tenant we at PainSmith are happy to advise Landlords or Tenants about such applications or the options open to them.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , ,

What should I think about before I buy my freehold? The Cons.

For many Leaseholders getting together with fellow Leaseholders to buy the freehold of the building they occupy is seen as the end of problems with freeholders and controlling their own destiny. Whilst this is of course true before going down this major step leaseholders should consider if and why this is the right route for them.

The motivation for many is to rid themselves of a freeholder who they perceive is not offering good value for money and service and often the fact that all the leaseholders need to act to extend their leases. Undertaking a collective enfranchisement can often be achieved at a similar cost to that of all extending their leases particularly when legal and valuation costs are thrown into the mix. All seems simple and many groups at this stage press on with the purchase.

The issues generally arise sometime down the line when the glow of having purchased has worn off. Simply because you have bought your freehold does not mean that all problems go away. In our experience freehold purchases tend to be driven by a small group of leaseholders who put in enormous amounts of time and effort. Sometimes after the initial euphoria they find that they do not wish to (or can’t) give as much time to the freehold as before. As a freeholder you remain bound by the terms of the leases particularly with regards to service charges and repairs. Whilst often on completion the leaseholders will all have extended their leases (typically to 999 years) the service charge and repairing covenants usually remain the same. The freeholder is still governed by the statutory rules governing residential leases and must comply with all of these obligations including in relation to consultation. This year we have seen a number of LVT decisions reiterating this and making clear that there will be no let off for leaseholder owned companies.

As a result some of the imagined costs savings cannot be achieved as often a managing agent for practicality will still be required as well as having to go through all the processes. Certainly we would always recommend to any group considering enfranchisement that they should look to appoint managing agents to ensure that the day to day running complies fully with all of the legal requirements. We have seen over the past decade the increase in rules and regulations to ensure that individual leaseholders are protected but this has driven up costs as the work involved has increased.

Increasingly we are also being asked to advise both individual leaseholders and freeholds where the parties find themselves in dispute. This can be as simple as someone not having the money to pay the service charge and fellow neighbours having to take Court action to recover monies. The other extreme is in small blocks where the freehold is owned by named individuals and one is looking to sell and one or more of the other Owners will not sign the necessary transfer paperwork causing a sale to fail. Consideration needs to be given as to how you feel you will get on as a collective group and not just with your current leaseholders but potentially with subsequent Owners.

We have seen instances where the repercussions are so great that fresh collective enfranchisement claims have been made. Now with the lower qualifying majority of 50% it is possible that buildings can enfranchise and re-enfranchise again and again. We have seen a situation where the leaseholders of a small block has enfranchised on 3 occasions! The fees spent on such an exercise must be immense for little real gain to the leaseholders individually.

Whilst none of the above should necessarily put anyone off buying their freehold it is important that everyone enters this with their eyes wide open. Under the legislation there are various other routes that can often be adopted such as Right to Manage and undertaking bulk lease extensions either by the statutory route or negotiation. Commercial freeholders are alive to these issues and many will negotiate over items. There can be a benefit in having a completely separate (and we deliberately do not say independent!) freeholder. Whilst for most groups who enfranchise the process is an unqualified success story with many real and perceived benefits as with most transactions there are risks and it is important that all participants understand these.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

Can the freeholder recover costs incurred in pursuing me at the LVT as service charge?

The above question is one which frequently arises when a claim has been made by a freeholder to the LVT to determine the reasonableness of service charges.

Obviously it is always open to the tenant to request that the LVT in determining the application will exercise it’s discretion and make an order under Section 20c Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. If such an order is made the LVT can order that no costs will be added to the service charge accounts or limit the amount/proportion that may be recovered. If the freeholder is generally successful in their application often the LVT will not make such an order and so then the costs may be recoverable.

As various articles have said it is then important to look at the terms of the lease. Unless the lease allows recovery the freeholder will not be allowed to recover these costs.

Recently the Court of Appeal had to consider the interpretation of the lease in Freeholders of 69 Marina, St. Leonards-on-Sea –Robinson, Simpson and Palmer v John Oram and Mohammed Goorun [2011] EWCA Civ 1258 .

In this case the freeholder had brought proceedings in the LVT to determine the reasonableness of the service charge and subsequently looked to recover the costs. Proceedings were issued in the County Court who determined at first instance that the costs were recoverable under clause 3(12) of the lease which said:

“pay all expenses including solicitors’ costs and surveyors’ fees incurred by the landlord incidental to the preparation and service of a notice under section 146 of the Law of Property Act 1925 or incurred in or in contemplation of proceedings under section 146 or 147 of the Act…. and to pay all expenses including solicitors’ costs and surveyors’ fees incurred by the landlord of and incidental to the service of all notices and schedules relating to wants of repair of the premises…..”

The District Judges findings were upheld at first instance by the Circuit Judge but the leaseholders appealed to the Court of Appeal. The appeal was dismissed as the Court of Appeal determined that clearly the Landlord had incurred costs in undertaking repairs etc and under section 81 of the Housing Act 1996 an application to the LVT is a necessary pre condition of the forfeiture process.

An interesting decision making clear that the Court will give a broad interpretation to these clauses to allow Landlords to recover costs

Filed under: England & Wales, , , , , ,

Enfranchisement: can you bring multiple claims?

Recently the High Court has ruled on the case of Westbrook Dolphin Square Limited v. Friends Provident Life and Pensions Limited.

The Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 expressly considers the position which may arise when a Notice (whether for enfranchisement or a lease extension) has been validly served but is not proceeded with whether by way of an express withdrawal or a deemed withdrawal when a party does not comply with the time limits under the Act. In those circumstances the Leaseholders are then barred from issuing a fresh Notice for a period of 12 months from the date of withdrawal. The participants will also be liable to pay the Freeholders costs. Thus the Act envisages that multiple Notices may be served.

In The Westbrook case a Notice was originally served and a negative counter notice was served and proceedings issued which had reached the stage of being a couple of weeks form the date fixed for hearing when Westbrook withdrew the Notice and the claim supposedly due to the fall in property values. Westbrook made clear when serving Notice that they would take further steps to acquire the freehold on what they felt would be more advantageous terms. Friends Provident indicated at this stage that they felt if Westbrook did this under the Civil Procedure Rules they would need the Courts permission. Westbrook duly paid Friends Provident the costs of the Court proceedings.

A new Notice was duly served (after the 12 month moratorium period had expired). This Notice contained a different purchase price, date and manner of signature of the participating tenants. Friends Prov served a counter notice and proceedings were issued by Westbrook without permission of the Court being sought in advance. Five out of the six grounds raised by Friends were the same as the earlier proceedings. Friends submitted that the second claim was an abuse of process in that there was a public interest in the finality of litigation and that no party should be vexed by the same cause of action twice. Westbrook submitted that it did not require permission and if they did they should be granted permission as the possibility of successive claims was a feature of the Act.

Mr. Justice Arnold struck out the claim. He decided that the principle of finality of litigation and that a person should not be vexed twice should inform the courts approach. The claim amounted to an abuse of process. The facts were substantially the same. Whilst withdrawing the Notice was acceptable they should not have discontinued the claim and then looked to in effect bring a second claim on substantially the same facts. They should have pursued the Court claim and had that adjudicated upon and at that stage, if they had been successful, they could have withdrawn the Notice.

It seems that if you receive a negative Counter Notice before issuing proceedings you need to consider whether you wish to go through with them. Once proceedings are started if you then withdraw serving a Notice again on the same basis will be difficult without permission of the Court which it seems may not be given. If therefore you have a block where there may be issues over the right to enfranchise tenants need to be committed to going all the way through with proceedings and if in doubt need to be prepared to withdraw the Notice at an early stage. In practice this probably applies to a minority of claims and seems to be the Court expressing annoyance at corporate participating tenants looking to exploit the system as the judge saw it. Yet more case law deriving form LRHUDA 1993!

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , , , ,

Is it reasonable to expect tenants to pay large service charges?

The Upper Chamber Lands Tribunal recently considered whether in determining if costs have been reasonably incurred account should be taken of the financial impact on tenants and whether major works should be phased (Garside and others v. RYFC Ltd and others [2011] UKUT 367). The case involved an estate of 5 blocks with 54 flats which as a result of historical neglect had a manager appointed by the LVT after an application by some of the leaseholders.

The Manager appointed set about arranging for outstanding works to be carried out. However a number of the leaseholders became concerned as to their ability to pay due to the significant increase in service charges these works would cause.

The leaseholders agreed that the scope of works was acceptable but queried whether it was necessary to carry out the bulk of the works at once. They suggested that the works should be phased to spread the costs over a longer period. The costs were likely to be in the year 2010 £7,600 or more and it was said that some Leaseholders would be forced to sell their flats.

The LVT rejected the argument that consideration should be given to the individual leaseholders ability to pay in determining the reasonableness of the costs. The LVT determined given there was no argument over the reasonableness of the costs, the specification or the ability of the Manager to recover the costs in advance and therefore in the LVTs opinion section 19 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 only related to the reasonableness of the works and costs and not the ability of the leaseholders to pay.

The leaseholders appealed to the Upper Chamber Lands Tribunal. HHJ Robinson determined that the 1985 Act did not limit what is reasonable. In her opinion “reasonable” should be given a broad meaning in accordance with Ashworth Frazer v. Gloucester City Council [2001] 1 WLR 2180. Thus in her opinion the financial impact and whether works could and should be phased was a material consideration in determining whether costs have been reasonably incurred under section 19 of the 1985 Act.

The Judge said that a wide consideration had to be given of all the issues including the urgency of the works. These were all matters of fact and judgment for the LVT to determine. She did emphasis that the LVT could not alter a tenants contractual liability to pay whatever the hardship.

The lesson here is that if Leaseholders are faced with consultation over major works and they are concerned over the ability to pay they must raise this. This would be a legitimate matter to raise and for the person undertaking the works to have regard to and whether the works can be phased. Certainly something all property managers should be alive to particularly when drawing up specifications of works.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , , ,

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