Major works disputes are common with large blocks of flats. Acting together leaseholders can mount a robust challenge.
Group action over major works claim against leaseholders
Following the Grenfell tragedy, significant interest and attention has rightly focused on the fire safety and protective measures in place in high-rise residential tower blocks.
Our litigation lawyers recently acted for a group of leaseholders who held leases to 96 out of 110 flats in the block. We were instructed to assist in opposing a claim by the freeholder to incur and charge the leaseholders in excess of £450,000 for ‘emergency’ works.
Dispute in the Lease Tribunal
The matter proceeded through the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) and resulted in a 2-day hearing before a judge and expert panel member. The goal of our clients was clear; to obtain a reduction in the cost of the emergency works being claimed through the service charge by the freeholder whilst still implementing necessary and reasonable safety measures in the building.
The challenges faced by the leaseholders included obtaining instructions from and disseminating information to a large number of residents, ensuring compliance within a tight court timetable set down by the Tribunal as well as obtaining expert evidence at a time when experts in the relevant fields were in high demand and availability was low.
The Property Litigation team utilised its experience to enlist a team of experts to provide relevant evidence in support of the leaseholders’ case. The process leading to the final hearing required a great deal of work and expertise in analysing the key issues and presenting a robust case to support the leaseholders’ challenge for a reduction in the service charge. At the final hearing to determine whether there should be a reduction of the sums claimed, we encountered further hurdles which required both quick and creative thinking in order to find a route forward.
The key expert for the leaseholders was not in the country and was therefore unavailable to give live evidence in person. However, the expert had confirmed that he could provide live evidence by video call. The Tribunal had never previously utilised the forum of a remote hearing for live expert evidence and were hesitant to do so. However, after persuading the Tribunal to provide us permission to try, one of the Property Litigation team members was able to set up several screens and a microphone so that live evidence could be given. The hearing was able to proceed and the Tribunal Judge observed that this was the first time that this had taken place.
As a result of preparing a strong case for our clients whilst simultaneously having taking a pragmatic approach in order to proceed with the hearing, Axiom Stone was able to secure a reduction on behalf of the leaseholders of approximately £50,000 as against the sums claimed by the freeholder.
In achieving this positive outcome for our clients, we demonstrated our proactive approach to overcoming both the legal and practical challenges to obtain the best result possible for our clients.