… and wins the right to a recognised residents’ association
The residents at West India Quay in London’s Docklands have won their epic battle to have a recognised residents’ association.
Represented for free by Martin Boyd, a co-director of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, the residents faced a legal onslaught headed by Edwin Johnson, QC.
This added up to £74,560 in costs for an afternoon hearing at the London tribunal on March 27.
It was extraordinary that freeholder the Yianis group, owned by Monaco-based John Christodoulou, was prepared to exert such legal muscle. Johnson is regarded as one of the leading property barristers in the country, described as “commanding and extremely effective” by Legal 500.
To lose a case to a lay advocate is unlikely to go unnoticed among his “learned friends”.
Although the issue seems minor, a recognised residents’ association does have one very important power: the right to appoint a surveyor to examine the accounts.
These were last presented to the residents in June 2010, the tribunal was told.
The ruling (below) by chartered surveyor Aileen Hamilton-Farey, assisted by Judge Tim Powell, who heads the London region of the property tribunal, is a humiliation for the freeholder and his army of legal advisors.
As well as a QC (£30,120 inc VAT), this included grade A solicitor Stephen Hughes, of Lorrells LLP (£31,950), and chartered surveyor Bruce Maunder-Taylor (£5,850) as a professional witness. The breakdown of costs submitted to the tribunal is published below.
The fanciest residential block in Docklands, West India Quay is divided into 158 flats and a 12-storey Marriott hotel, which accounts for 47 per cent of the building.
Mr Johnson, QC, argued that the appointment of a surveyor by the residents would allow “unlimited access to documents that might be of confidential nature” concerning the freeholder’s relationship with the Marriott.
“We disagree,” the tribunal states.
“It is our view that any surveyor would only be entitled to view documents and make enquiries relating to service charges payable by the long leaseholders and not to any other extent.”
Furthermore, the tribunal said it was satisfied by the evidence of Jane Hewland, the residents’ representative, that
“Their [the residents’] desire is to ensure that they are able to exercise their rights in relation to service charges and nothing further.”
In issuing a certificate of recognition for the residents’ association, the tribunal ruled that they could not have access to the management agreement between the freeholder and the Marriott hotel.
Any inspection of the service charge accounts would similarly be restricted to the residential portion of West India Quay.
The tribunal also found in favour of the residents over legal costs:
“… we have found in favour of the Applicants in this matter and therefore make an order that none of the costs incurred by the Respondents are considered to be service charges and are therefore not chargeable to the Applicants.”
However, the tribunal disagree with residents who felt the freeholder was unreasonable in defending the action.
“The Respondents, given the confidentiality issues, were entitled to defend the matter and were entitled to use professionals to do so. We find that each party should therefore bear its own costs in this matter.”
Jane Hewland, a former television journalist, said: “We are so grateful to Martin Boyd and the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership for all their help in what has been a nine-month battle. They beat one of the top property QCs in the country.
“We simply could not have won this without their help. We just hope the landlord leaves it here and does not appeal.”
But Hewland is indignant at the unfair allocation of costs in leasehold tribunal cases.
“If the landlord had won he could have added his costs to our service charges. We did win, and we still do not get awarded our costs. This does not seem fair.”
The obvious injustice in this approach to costs is to be taken up by LKP in June when it meets Judge Siobhan McGrath, who heads the property chamber.
The full costs demanded by the freeholder’s team can be read here: LegalTeam’scosts
Also Edwin Johnson, QC, made a curiously splenetic plea for costs to the tribunal, in which he names Martin Boyd 15 times and talks of “mud-slinging”, “too outrageous and/or too misconceived”, “self evidently absurd”, “quite absurd”, “lack common courtesy”, “self-evidently absurd” (again) and “absolute nonsense”.