Thursday, 1 September 2016

AT YOUR SERVICE

The service charge under your residential lease will be about as popular to you as a drummer in the upstairs flat. There's a risk now in challenging the reasonableness of the service charge if you have been sued for it in the county court. That's because though the case has been dealt with as a 'small claim' you will probably end up having to pay the landlord's legal costs if you lose. The lease wording will usually see to that and this will prevail over the 'small claims' costs regime which limits what the loser has to pay the winner in costs. But when the landlord is after their costs in a court or tribunal case, study the lease wording with a high powered magnifying glass. 

In a tribunal ruling just published, the tenant has escaped paying the landlord towards over £11,000 in legal costs on the ground that the wording in the lease on which the landlord relied did not catch them. It allowed the landlord to employ solicitors for certain things and to charge up the tenant. However, the wording was not specific enough so as to relate to solicitors' and barristers' fees for defending the tribunal cases involved.  Any liability had to be clearly spelt out in the lease and the lease in its entirety had to be looked at to decide whether or not the tenant had to pay up as the landlord asked.

This latest ruling on the topic might be of help to you. It comes in a case called Sinclair Gardens Investments (Kensington) Ltd v Avon Estates (London) Ltd  in the Upper Tribunal (Lands Tribunal) reference (2016) UKUT 317 (LC).