A demand issued by freeholder Israel Moskovitz that a leaseholder pay £22,170 was reduced to £300 in the property tribunal last month and described as “a colossal waste of the time of both parties and of the court”.
The ruling concerned a dispute about a major works bill at Bridge Court South, in north-east London that had already been settled, and ends two and a half years of legal wrangling.
This is the second time in recent months that Judge Nicholas Nicol has ruled on a dispute at the block, which now has right to manage, and on both occasions he has been critical of the conduct of Israel Moskovitz’s freehold owning entity Triplerose Limited.
Holly Bowles, a leaseholder of a flat in Bridge Court South in Leyton, north-east London had been pursued by Israel Moskovitz’s company over an outstanding major works bill of £7,576.56.
The sum was not paid in 2015, when it was originally demanded, because Ms Bowles alleged that she could not meet the high cost.
She then began questioning the progress and quality of the work.
When it came to extending her lease a few years later, the leaseholder was told by Mr Moskovitz’s Triplerose that it would not grant an extension until she had settled the debt. This was on the last day of August 2017.
On 6 September 2017, Triplerose sent her a letter, demanding that she pay the new sum of £10,307.87 within just seven days. In it, there was a threat to commence forfeiture proceedings.
With some reluctance, the leaseholder made the transfer on 5 October 2017. Her lease extension was successful.
But later that month, Ms Bowles found herself on the receiving end of a county court claim, lodged by the freeholder, who was now demanding £11,207.84, plus interest and costs. On 1 November 2017, she had admitted £2,339.57 but disputed the balance and served a counterclaim challenging a £150 car parking charge.
Triplerose then sought to levy the costs it was alleged to be incurring because of her decision to seek a determination on the £150 fee.
Judge Nicholas Nicol admonished Mr Moskovitz’s Triplerose and its lawyers last October in a separate ruling concerning the service charge account and the site’s new right to manage company.
He criticised Mr Moskovitz’s legal team:
“The Tribunal is aware that the criticism made of the Applicant’s representatives here is, for good reason, rare but, with this particular landlord, it appears to be part of a pattern.”
Judge Nicol expressed his concerns in the case involving Ms Bowles:
“ … the Tribunal is concerned as to the chronology of this matter. The letter before action gave the Applicant a mere 7 days to respond. The court proceedings were prepared within that period. If the Respondent’s solicitors had waited just a little longer, the proceedings would have become otiose with the payment of the relevant sum on 5th October 2017. The court were not even able to serve the proceedings on the Applicant until a couple of weeks later.”
“Having received payment, the Respondent then continued the proceedings. There is no evidence that the Respondent’s solicitor or counsel considered the proportionality of continuing to chase sums which had already been paid. They can’t have thought it was justified by the pursuit of contractual costs because none were claimed. They can’t have thought it appropriate to incur thousands of pounds in fees to resist the Applicant’s very modest counterclaim of £150. Somewhat inevitably, the proceedings ended nearly 17 months later with the judge ruling that there was nothing for him to give judgment on.”
Before going on to rebuke Triplerose solicitors for not even following the basics of debt recovery:
“ … The Pre-Action Protocol for Debt Claims is one of such protocols issued alongside the Civil Procedure Rules with the aim of encouraging early engagement and communication between the parties, enabling resolution without the need for court proceedings and encouraging the parties to act reasonably and proportionately. It seems to the Tribunal that it would have been entirely proper for the Respondent’s solicitors to have had the Protocol in mind.”
Triplerose had demanded from Ms Bowles the following in administration charges:
- Additional solicitors’ fee £900
- Court fee £590.97
- Fixed solicitors’ costs £100
- Hearing fee £335
- Adjournment fee £100
- Counsel’s fee for advice £300
- Counsel’s fees for attendance on 24th July 2018 £2,880
- Counsel’s fees for attendance on 19th February 2019 £3,397.20
- Solicitors’ “Breach” fees £8,283
The tribunal threw out every item, saying they were unreasonable.
The managing agent, Y&Y Management Limited, also invoiced:
- Travel expenses for 24th July 2018 £162.96
- Hearing attendance for 24th July 2018 £1,200
- Preparation for both hearings £960
- Travel expenses for 19th February 2019 £162.96
- Hearing attendance for 19th February 2019 £1,200
Judge Nicol said:
“… it is not clear to the Tribunal that their attendance was necessary at either hearing. The context of neither hearing [at the county court] has been described, let alone explained.”
In the end, Ms Bowles was ordered to pay £300 in legal fees, a cut from the £540 originally demanded. She had earlier conceded £108 for subletting.
In an echo of his run-in with Mr Moskovitz last year, Judge Nicol said that “both issue and continuation were a colossal waste of the time of both parties and of the court.”
It is not known whether Triplerose will appeal.
The full ruling is here: