Leasehold Knowledge Partnership’s coverage of the forfeiture of £800,000 flat of Dennis Jackson, 73, at Plantation Wharf is being followed up by the rest of the media.
Headed “Grabbit and grab some more”, the article compares Jackson’s travails through the courts with the never-ending Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Bleak House.
The main point is that a relatively minor dispute escalated into one where Jackson came within a hair’s breadth of losing everything he has as a result of forfeiture. This was granted on January 30 and lifted in a session of Wandsworth County Court, from which the public were excluded, on February 26 – the day before the forfeiture order became absolute.
The article quoted Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for Worthing West, who has an interest in leaseholder injustices, saying: “Who in this case showed restraint or basic decency? It was injustice to apply the letter of the law to take everything from a pensioner who rightly challenged charges.
“English leasehold law is revealed in its ancient cruelty, expense and ghastliness.”
Both the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and Dennis Jackson, a leaseholder at Plantation Wharf in Battersea, have complained to the Ministry of Justice that a forfeiture case was held in a secret court.
Jackson, 73, had his lease forfeited on January 30 and had 28 days to ask a court to lift the order before it became absolute and he lost his £800,000 property.
On February 26 at Wandsworth County Court considered the case but barrister Alexander Bastin, representing freeholder Cube Real Estate requested that the hearing be held in private.
He objected to the presence of Sebastian O’Kelly, of LKP, as “press” and referred to the Human Rights Act as grounds to hold the hearing in private. [Read more...]
COMMENT by Sebastian O’Kelly
Two days ago when the barrister Alexander Bastin successfully asked the judge at Wandsworth County Court to throw me out of his court – citing the Human Rights Act – the whole sorry saga of Dennis Jackson and Plantation Wharf reached a new low-point … although not one without an element of dark humour.
Bastin, representing the freeholder of Plantation Wharf, Cube Real Estate, has defeated Jackson at every turn to the point where the latter was facing homelessness and destitution. The hearing – with only two days to go before Jackson’s £800,000 flat could have been lost forever – was to request the lifting of the forfeit order granted on January 30.
So when Bastin suggested that the Human Rights Act was grounds for ejecting the “press”, to use his term, one can only assume he was cracking some sort of lawyerly joke. The only human rights at issue were those of Jackson himself, by whose invitation I, and Martin Boyd, my colleague at the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, had come to the court.
Jackson, 73, who was not legally represented, and a barrister for the Prudential, his mortgage lender, told the judge that they had no objection to our attending. But Bastin insisted and the judge – apologetically – ordered us out.
As a result, a closed court was convened to decide whether to take from Jackson every significant asset that he has, without the public having any right to be present.
Only in leasehold would such a thing be possible, one is tempted to conclude.
Having taken one bad decision – it should never be a minor matter to throw the public out of a court – Deputy District Judge Colquohoun sensibly lifted the forfeiture order returning the lease to Jackson as the Prudential agreed to pay off his outstanding debts.
These are £76,086.20, and are wholly accounted for in legal costs. Jackson paid off the original disputed £7,548 service charges years ago.
Enormous though the legal costs are, the lawyers have appealed to the Upper Tribunal (Land Chamber) for more.
Jackson is desperately trying to sell his flat, where he has lived for 16 years, and what he walks away with is the open question.
At this point, it is worth re-capping on what has been going on at Plantation Wharf, a complex on the river at Battersea of 160 flats and 94 commercial premises that was built 18 years ago.
The neighbours include John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who bought a £935,000 leasehold house in January, and Nigella Lawson, who has her TV studio kitchen there.
The pensioner who had the lease on his £800,000 flat forfeited won a reprieve today when his mortgage lender stepped in to pay his outstanding debts.
Dennis Jackson, 73, a former commercial photographer, had the lease on his split-level flat at Plantation Wharf in Battersea forfeited last month and had 28 days to be out of the property.
But in a court action this morning – the day before Jackson faced being ruined and made homeless – the Prudential, which has a £175,000 mortgage on the property, undertook to pay the outstanding debt.
Ninety per cent of the amount owed is accounted for in legal fees for the freeholder, Cube Real Estate. The original dispute involved only £7,000 in service charges.
In a letter to Bob Devey, executive director of the Prudential – copied in to LKP – she says:
“As Mr Jackson’s Member of Parliament, I would like to lend my support to what Sir Peter Bottomley MP, who has a great deal of experience in this area, has already said and I look forward to hearing the result of the urgent legal consultations you refer to in your email below. I can only hope that you can take positive action which results in the best possible outcome for both my constituent and indeed the Prudential itself.
“It has become clear to me, from my involvement in this case, that mistakes have been made by most parties involved at each stage, not least with regard to some basic aspects of court administration. I therefore very much hope that the Prudential can avoid compounding these mistakes by leaving Mr Jackson in a situation where he is left without a home and where the Prudential is effectively left out of pocket.
John Bercow buys £935,000 pad in Plantation Wharf – after embittered seller despairs of living there
John Bercow and his wife Sally are buying a property at troubled Plantation Wharf in Battersea, where pensioner Dennis Jackson won a reprieve on having his flat forfeited yesterday following a dispute over service charges.
A grace and favour riverside pad in the Palace of Westminster is not enough for the Bercows, who exchanged on a £935,000 mews house a week ago.
“The Bercows have been trying to buy my place for four months and are obviously pretty keen,” said seller Sam Fryer, 46, a publisher of yachting magazines. “It was not even on the market when I was approached by the estate agents asking whether I would sell.”
… but the legal feeding frenzy continues with a £4,000 bill
Dennis Jackson, 73, escaped forfeiture today of his £800,000 flat at the Plantation Wharf in Battersea.
In a five-minute hearing Deputy District Judge Cole brushed aside arguments from Alexander Bastin, the barrister representing the freeholders and Plantation Wharf Management Limited, who demanded forfeiture of Jackson’s lease.
But Helen Turnbull, an open access barrister found for Jackson by LKP yesterday, successful argued that as Bastin and his team were appealing against the LVT decision that restricted their legal costs the issue was not concluded and therefore Jackson’s case should be adjourned. She also argued that it should be adjourned anyway to give Jackson time to contest the action.
To Jackson’s surprise, a representative of Prudential, his mortgage company, also was present asking for an adjournment in order to protect its £175,000 mortgage on the property. Jackson had thought Prudential would not be present.
Meanwhile, the legal costs gravy train kept on flowing with the freeholder’s extended legal team presenting a £4,000 estimated bill for the hearing.
Bastin argued that these should be paid. They would cover his fees, those of the solicitor Janice Northover, who was present but silent, her assistant who helps carry her bag, and even Phillip John, chief executive of managing agents Tideway, who at the LVT hearings successfully demanded £250 an hour in order to explain his “complex” accounts that the tribunal said were “very difficult for a lay leaseholder to understand without some kind of proper explanation”.
In spite of Bastin’s repeated objections, the judge ruled that costs were to be delayed and reserved.
The adjournment gives Jackson time to consider his options in the case. “That was as good a result as I could have got today,” he said.
There is a real possibility that this will happen. He is fighting the action alone and his mortgage company, owed £175,000, to date has not indicated it would be involved.
Ellison wrote to Bryan [Howard] Lewis, the ex-solicitor with an appalling professional record including a criminal conviction involving dishonesty, who chairs Plantation Wharf Management Limited. The residents have nominally controlled the company since October last year.
But Ellison has received a reply from Mike Benton, a director of PWML, but also an employee of Cube Real Estate, the freehold owner at Plantation Wharf.
“You will appreciate that this is a contractual dispute between Mr Jackson and this company [that is, PWML], which is currently the subject of ongoing proceedings in the Wandsworth County Court. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to correspond with you on a matter that is the subject of judicial proceedings,” he writes.
But the wider question is why the residents’ management company should assist Cube Real Estate pursue this action, running up what an LVT has described as disproportionate “colossal” sums in legal fees in doing so?
Even the most phlegmatic Plantation Wharf resident might be concerned that their management company is doing the freeholder’s bidding and running up huge legal fees.
Leaseholders at Plantation Wharf are demanding an Extraordinary General Meeting to halt the legal action to forfeit the £800,000 flat of pensioner Dennis Jackson, 73.
Leaflets are circulating at the prime Battersea development overlooking the River Thames, where Nigella Lawson has her TV studio kitchen and where Commons Speaker John Bercow is in the process of buying a £935,000.
Jackson faces court action on November 28. It is the final stage of a protracted dispute over £9,000 of service charges that began in 2009 when Plantation Wharf Management Limited was controlled by the site’s freeholder. Since October 2011 the company has been controlled by the residents, but the board supports continuing the very expensive legal action.
One resident has written to the board: “My strong feeling is that, as this is such an important issue, the shareholders MUST have a say in this action, and Plantation Wharf Management Limited must have an explicit mandate from the majority of the shareholders for repossession.”
If you are in dispute with your freeholder over service charges (see Plantation Wharf case), pay the sum and fight the action retrospectively. Make sure that you are the applicant of the action, rather than the respondent.
The case of Dennis Jackson at Plantation Wharf raises the prospect of freeholders seeking to circumvent the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal’s £500 limits on legal costs.
Since publishing the article, two leaseholders who own apartments worth several million pounds, have contacted LKP for advice on this issue.
Many leases do allow landlords to pass on their legal charges, but the LVT has the power to limit them being passed on as service charges provided leaseholders have reasonably brought a case and have been able to show that the charges have been unreasonably incurred.
What the Jackson case shows is that if a landlord – in this case a management company – is seeking recovery of a debt he may be able to claim legal costs as administrative charges under Schedule 11 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act. This would then circumvent the LVT’s ability to limit costs.
It is important not to withhold service charges for any reason to avoid this use of the law. Paying the service charge does not mean you accept liability to pay that amount – you must indicate that you do not accept the liability – and it can be challenged at the LVT retrospectively.