Tim Powell, a former London solicitor and now a judge in the First-Tier Tribunal, addressed the annual meeting of the Federation of Private Residents’ Associations on November 12.
His talk aimed at informing leaseholders of the changes that came into effect on July 1, replacing the old LVT.
He was accused of being “disingenuous” by a member of the audience when he emphasised that the property tribunals were a low-cost forum.
LKP is at a loss to explain why the Residential Property Tribunal Service is so keen to emphasise this – which struck a wrong note as two people who claim to have suffered significant financial loss as a result were in the audience.
Julian Shersby, from Sussex, lost £44,000 in leasehold litigation and publicly states that he blames LEASE, the Leasehold Advisory Service for misleading him into believing that costs would be limited to £500.
LEASE re-drafted its website on the guidance of LKP earlier this year.
Dennis Jackson, from Battersea, is another leaseholder who has suffered horrendous financial loss after believing that costs would be limited to £500 at the LVT.
He has had to pay £76,000 for the freeholders’ legal fees and his £800,000 flat was forfeited in January this year – a decision that LKP and Sir Peter Bottomley managed to get overturned.
LKP urges the RPTS to stop emphasising that it is a low-cost tribunal, when costs are limited only in certain circumstances. They can, in fact, be unlimited, and can be awarded by a superior court. The LVT in the Jackson case ruled that costs could not be levied from the service charge.
Lawyers – some unsavoury players in the leasehold game – have corroded the RPTS’s original intentions and intimidation by legal costs is routine.
It would also be gratifying to see the RPTS take a firmer line against lawyers playing the system against leaseholders: dumping a voluminous amount of submissions on the day of the hearing is not a coincidence, for example.
The number of leaseholders who loathe the RPTS and feel they have not had justice is a concern.
Further sources of worry are the scrappy and inefficient recording and archiving of RPTS decisions on what appear to be basic photocopies.
Spelling mistakes – even of the principals’ names – pages in the wrong order and an archiving system that is haphazard are not encouraging.
Finally, leaseholders could do with reassurance regarding the panel members who sit on the RPTS. Earlier this month, it emerged that Benjamin Mire, a controversial managing agent, would have been sacked from his judicial appointment following complaints that were heard earlier in the year. In fact, he resigned before this was necessary.
Is the RPTS confident that there are not other panel members who really should not sit on both sides of the bench?
Sir Peter Bottomley is certainly agitated on these issues. In his speech to the FPRA’s annual conference, which can be seen here, he warned that legal careers would be blighted if “conduct that is frankly scandalous” is not brought to an end.