Property disputes and litigation.

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Property litigation solicitors

Property disputes are common both in the residential and commercial context. We can advise and assist whether your property litigation issue relates to commercial property or residential property, freehold or leasehold.

You may be a long-term tenant who owns a flat or a house as leasehold, and has difficulties getting the landlord to undertake repairs, or a commercial tenant facing excessive service charges – the key is to stay active and not be afraid to deal with the issues.

Landlord solicitors in London

We advise both landlords and tenants but we are experienced and well known for acting for landlords of all kinds from institutional through to private landlords with a small portfolio or even single commercial or residential property. property disputes are often complex and technical. Mistakes by Landlords often prove very costly, so it is always important to have specialist landlord & tenant lawyers representing you.

Types of property litigation

Our solicitors have experience and expertise in all aspects of property litigation. Often negotiation, arbitration or mediation are the best way forward but where court litigation is needed, a good solicitor, procedure and tactics are vital.

Commercial lease disputes are the most common, followed by residential possession claims. Other common disputes include :-

  • Disputes relating to property alterations, planning, party walls and boundary disputes.
  • Major works disputes.
  • Rights of way and rights of light.
  • Adverse possession claims.
  • Disputes over property management and with property managers.
  • Fraud or misrepresentation claims with conveyancing.
  • Disputes between property owners regarding sale or otherwise.
  • Absent freeholders.
  • Conveyancing related disputes and conveyancing negligence.

Most common lease disputes

Most common lease disputes involve problems associated with:

  • Rent review clauses;
  • Lease renewals;
  • Unpaid rent;
  • Service charges; and
  • Maintenance (repairs).

Service charge disputes

Service charges are one of the most frequent causes of property disputes. The main reason behind this is due to the fact that there is a potential conflict of interest between the landlord and the tenant, whether in residential or commercial context. Naturally, the tenant will want to pay for the most affordable contractors to carry out the maintenance duties. The landlord, being afraid of the quality of service, may oppose the tenant’s choice of contractor and ask to contract the work with more reputable and expensive contractor, to ensure that the level of service is better.

Although, it might seem quite easy to resolve at first, major and costly litigation can follow if a mutually agreeable consensus cannot be achieved. Call our lawyers to discuss your case.

Rent arrears

Falling behind with your rent can have severe consequences; it may not only lead to disputes over your lease but also ultimately result in eviction, court action and bailiff intervention. If you know you may have difficulties in paying your rent, it is vital to let your landlord know before the actual non-payment. Most property leases will include relevant provisions entitling landlords to take certain actions after the rent has been unpaid for a set period of time (i.e. one month).

Forfeiture is when a landlord ends the lease due to the tenant breaching the terms of that lease by not paying their rent or by other significant breach. Remember that with commercial leases, whilst termination is rarely straightforward, it is a lot easier than with a residential lease.

Subject to the terms of the lease agreement (legal advice should be sought) a lease generally cannot be forfeited by any other breach of the lease except non-payment of the agreed rental amount.

If a different breach of lease has occurred then the landlord is within his rights to serve the tenant with a notice which should state exactly what that breach is and must give the tenant a set period of time to rectify the breach.

If the tenant adheres to the order and rectifies the breach within the set time period then the landlord’s right of forfeiture no longer stands but if the tenant continues to commit a breach of the lease the landlord can then pursue forfeiture of the lease through the court.

Procedure for commercial lease forfeiture

Forfeiture is not straightforward. Whilst some landlords will seek to forfeit by simply changing the locks without a court order, this is highly risky, and may result in an expensive application being made to court for relief from forfeiture by the tenant plus a possible damages claim for loss of business or damage to business. Legal advice should be sought. Generally, a landlord wishing to forfeit the lease of his property will need to apply to the court to obtain an order to authorise the forfeiture.

But, before the landlord can obtain the order he must perform certain actions to try and remedy the breach himself.

If the breach is due to missed rent payments the landlord will need to issue the tenant in breach of the lease a formal demand for those missing rent payments and the demand must state the date that the amount is payable by and the landlord’s name and contact details.

If the breach is the result of another reason other than rent arrears, which may include the tenant failing to pay service charges, then the landlord will be required to serve the tenant with a section 146 notice before being able to apply for forfeiture. The section 146 notice must detail the nature of the breach of lease and give the tenant a sufficient amount of time to remedy that breach.

Surrender of lease as an alternative

If the tenant is in genuine financial difficulties, a possible alternative to forfeiture is to agree that the lease is surrendered by the tenant. This at least will avoid significant legal costs and possible delay.

Property dilapidations  disputes – basics for landlords

Start early – The first point to take on board as Landlord is to consider the issue of dilapidations before the end of the lease.

You may not recover all losses – If the tenant has indicated that he, she or it has no intention to seek to renew or extend, you should have 6 months and possibly more to get a surveyor into the premises to inspect and to begin the process of planning and possibly negotiating with the tenant. This is especially important as, in the event of dispute, regardless of possible arguments about liability, extent of works or legitimate cost, if you don’t plan ahead, the premises may take longer to be in a position to re-let and it may not be possible to recover loss of rent during that period from the tenant.

Guarantors – don’t forget also that liability for dilapidations may fall upon guarantors or others and not just the current tenant.

Dilapidations – basics for tenants

Plan ahead – The best advice for tenants is to be aware of the potential for expensive dilapidations liability right from the outset. If you are the original tenant, ensure that you get a schedule of condition at the outset and photographs, perhaps consider negotiating a cap and in all respects be clear. Don’t assume you won’t be impacted and/or that dilapidations won’t be costly. They can be very expensive.

Break clauses – It is a common mistake for tenants to overlook or underestimate dilapidations issue when exercising a break clause in a lease. Dilapidations may well still apply and you may lose your right to exercise a break option if there are issues or disputes over dilapidations.

Engage with your landlord – as early as you can and plan ahead and do not allow the premises to deteriorate – maintenance during the term of the lease spreads the cost and may result in a cheaper bill at the end.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate – as with any prospective dispute, it will generally be in neither party’s benefit to allow it to get anywhere near trial. Your landlord should be aware of this and so may be prepared to compromise if you adopt a reasonable position and attitude.

 If you need help or advice on any property dispute, we can help. Get in touch with our specialist solicitor for property litigation,  Dalia Ross.