Residential property services

Our residential landlord and tenant litigation expertise covers a number of areas. If your tenant or leaseholder is in arrears of rent or service charges we can advise on ways to recover payment. If your tenant has an assured shorthold tenancy we can advise on the quickest and most cost effective route to regain possession. More complicated rules exist for long residential leases, but we have the expertise to assist in this area as well.

In relation to property, disputes can flare up over boundaries, rights to light or restrictive covenants. We can advise on all these disputes to ensure that they are concluded in the best and most cost effective manner.

In general we provide expertise and advice on the following:

Recovery of rent and service charges

Whether you are a landlord, managing agent or a management company, non-payment of rent and service charges by a leaseholder must be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. The freeholder or management company will need to make maintenance, insurance and other payments. Other leaseholders who have made their payments on time will be disadvantaged by non-payment. On the other hand, non-payment can be for a variety of genuine reasons, (including redundancy or death of one or more of the leaseholders) and will require firm but tactful handling to ensure that future payments are made and relations are restored.

Provided the sum outstanding is less than £10,000, it will usually be dealt with through the County Court under the small claims procedure. It may be possible (depending on the terms of your Lease) to add claims for non-payment penalties, interest and fees. Even if the lease does not specify this, you may be able to add administrative charges under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 – but beware! There are various things you must do to alert the tenant of their rights and you can only add charges in certain situations.

It’s also worth understanding the role that the mortgage company plays: they will not want the lease to be forfeited, and so may add the rent and service charge to the leaseholder’s mortgage, again with or without their consent. It is certainly worth a carefully drafted letter from a solicitor explaining the situation and setting out clearly the steps that you intend to take.

As property litigation experts, we know exactly how to run this sort of case to get the right result as quickly as possible and in a way that maintains relations with your leaseholders. We always advise not to let matters fester: they do not improve with time!

Possession actions

However careful you are, there will be times when the tenants you or your managing agents chose let you down. Non-payment of rent and bills is common for students and young professionals, especially house sharers. Or you may simply want your home back.

There are two things you need to know straight away. One is that you can not remove a tenant without a court order. If you try to do that it is a criminal offence. Second, that it is not going to be quick, cheap or easy. That’s because the system tries to stop people from being made homeless by unscrupulous landlords – and honest landlords like you must make sure to do everything by the book if you want your property back. Judges are unforgiving of mistakes made in paperwork and may order costs against you if you fail to prove your case.

There are two alternatives: the first is potentially longer but easier. You rely upon the accelerated procedure at the end of the fixed term (i.e. usually after 6 months). Otherwise, if the tenant owes you money, you must serve a two month notice allowing the tenant time to pay outstanding rent arrears. There are other grounds for possession but in practice it usually makes more sense to use one of these two methods to avoid a lengthy and expensive hearing.

We can advise you on the best approach to take, making sure that your notices are perfect and take you through to vacant possession. Wherever possible, we will also help you to recover outstanding money, either from the tenant or a guarantor.

Forfeiture of leases

This is an area where landlords must tread very carefully and where good expert specialist advice is critical. Whatever the lease says about re-entry, you cannot take back the property without a court order and there are very specific rules about how and when this can be done. Removing a tenant without a court order is a criminal offence.

On the other hand, if you do want to remove a tenant from an investment property, then you need to take care not to lose the opportunity to do so. In particular, accepting or even demanding rent may be sufficient for the court to decide that you have waived your right to have the property returned to you, so extreme care needs to be taken in coordinating communication between landlord, managing agents and solicitors.

To remove a tenant who is in breach of one of their obligations, the first step is to check the lease and make sure that it provides for forfeiture for breach. If it does, then you have the basis for a claim for possession. If not, then you can still issue court proceedings for non payment of rent or service charge. In both cases you must serve a formal demand (in a specific format) and give the tenant time to put things right.

We can take you through the steps you must take to ensure vacant possession and full recovery of rent and service charges wherever that is possible.  

Boundary disputes

Many people are surprised to learn that plans attached to Land Registry documents are for identification only. In any case, they are often too small a scale to accurately describe the property’s boundaries.

If there is any question about where a boundary lies, for instance where the owner of the land wishes to develop it or where there is an argument over responsibility for maintaining a piece of land, the plan will probably not be helpful. There are 3 ways forward:

  • Mediation – this is usually a good option, especially if you can choose this sooner rather than later and before relationships sour. We can advise how to present your case, how to get the best out of a mediation and help you appoint a surveyor to provide his expert opinion.
  • If the boundary divides registered land, then you will need to make a claim to the Land Registry (through their special Tribunal process) and
  • A claim through the usual civil courts – the best option if you need an injunction to stop someone building before the case has been decided.

We are experienced in bringing and defending boundary claims and have the expert contacts you will need to support your case.  

Adverse possession, rights of way and ransom strips

Adverse possession occurs when someone (other than the legal owner) occupies land or property for long enough to acquire legal rights of ownership. This can occur whether the land is registered or unregistered and whether the occupation is intentional or not.

For instance, if your next-door neighbour always parks their car next to your house on land you own, they might acquire not just a right to walk over your land but also the right to ask the court to say that they actually own the land. Similarly, if the wall between your garden and the house next door is not on the boundary but on your land, your neighbour may be able to say that the land between the boundary and the wall is theirs.

These issues often become a problem when someone wants to build on the land in question, either because it is part of a development site (for instance, an infill building plot on a garden) or because one person wants to build an extension – or stop their neighbour from doing so.

It is a highly technical area of law and one we are very comfortable with – so call us first. We will unravel the legal issues involved and advise you on the best and safest course of action to achieve your goal.

We can also help with issues over rights of way, proprietary estoppel and ransom strips.