Residents at the Kingsmere estate in Brighton, who have been left facing legal bills of £30,000 following a disastrous right to manage action, are being dragged into a squabble between rival firms of leasehold solicitors.
Last Thursday (July 26) Yashmin Mistry, the leasehold solicitor with JPC Law who acted for them, was the subject of a High Court action in London as her former employers, Brethertons, argued that she had broken her contract of employment when she left the company last year.
But Judge Richard Seymour upheld an application that the restrictive covenant in her contract of employment was too wide to prevent her, at JPC, from acting for clients who may have initially contacted her at Brethertons.
Brethertons has made other applications, but the case was adjourned until October.
Mistry was approached by the leaseholders at the Kingsmere estate when she was still employed at Brethertons, but she took on the case when she joined JPC Law.
As it became apparent that the freeholder, Anstone Properties, was going to contest the right to manage application, she instructed a barrister, which added to the costs, when the case came before the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal in February this year.
But the leaseholders lost their RTM application because of a discrepancy in the dates of the RTM ballots at Kingsmere. The ballot at three of the blocks at the estate were held in July last year, while the ballot at the fourth was held in September.
Because notifications for right to manage were on different dates, the application failed.
Leaseholders have been left with bills totaling £30,000, which are almost equally divided between their costs and those of their landlord, which the leaseholders must pay.
They have already paid £10,800 to JPC Law, and £3,500 to a Horsham-based advice service called Leasehold Rights which advises on right to manage.
The issue is now being taken up by Caroline Lucas, of the Green Party, who is the constituency MP. Baroness Gardner of Parkes, a Conservative peer, is also being kept informed of the case.
Shaun Jardine, a solicitor at Brethertons, has been contacting the residents at Kingsmere for their assistance in his firm’s action against Mistry and JPC Law.
Last Friday he emailed John Deacon, who heads the RTM company:
“… in September 2011 when you contacted her [Mistry] she should have opened a file and in October when the application was going to the LVT again it should have been us doing it.
“If you do get a moment could you give some thought to any of the conversations that you may have had with her whilst she was a Brethertons employee and your file being opened at JPC, and let me have your best recollections as to what was said.
“I imagine you were also billed for work undertaken from Sept to 14th November 2011 (her date of leaving).”
John Deacon has little patience with this dispute.
“I am not hesitating to make this public,” he said. “You can imagine that lawyers are not very popular people at Kingsmere even before this. They are squabbling over fees among themselves, while ordinary people have been appallingly let down.”
All of the parties mentioned were contacted to comment.
It is difficult to know what more the residents at Kingsmere could have done. They contacted the right to manage organisers Leasehold Rights, sorted out their ballots and RTM notifications and then approached a well known solicitor in leasehold. But the result has been an unmitigated disaster, with the additional unedifying spectacle of Yashmin Mistry’s previous and present employers arguing over breach of contract in the High Court. Worse, her former employer Brethertons wants the residents to help in its action against Mistry and JPC Law!
While lawyers are gorging on fees and pursuing compo, they appear blind to the catastrophe that has been inflicted on the residents of Kingsmere.
Moral at the estate has collapsed, the right to manage company has only £800 in its account, belief in the process of law – right to manage is supposed to be a no fault process – has taken a battering. It is understood that one of the residents paid in £3,000 of his own money for this application.
Surely the significance of the discrepancy of dates of notification should have been noticed by the practitioners involved? Why weren’t the residents advised to hold their ballots anew on the same date? Wouldn’t attention to this case have been even keener once it was clear that the landlord was going to contest the RTM application?
The Ministry of Justice is undertaking consultation on the workings of the Leasehold Valuation Tribunals, and this is a case meriting particular scrutiny.
The full LVT ruling can be read here: