A new tribunal has been introduced which consolidates the various sets of rules which previously applied to property disputes. Seven different procedures were used in the past but these have now been replaced by a single tribunal called the First-Tier Tribunal Property Chamber.
The new chamber incorporates the tribunals for agricultural land and residential property with the adjudicator to Her Majesty’s Land Registry. The new chamber which started work on July 1st will be formed of a Chamber President, two senior judges and a further nineteen paid judges. Indeed, the chamber will play an important role and it is expected to handle over 11,000 cases each year.
With so many tribunals previously in effect, there were fears that tribunals were difficult to access and overly confusing to those involved in disagreements over property. The aim of the new tribunal is therefore to make sure that the public can easily access justice for disputes ranging from agricultural land to leasehold flats.
Disputes relating to lease extension and lease enfranchisement used to be resolved by the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal but these will now fall within the scope of the First-Tier Chamber. The chamber will continue the work that the LVT did such as deciding what a fair price for enfranchisement or lease extension is, or setting service charge arrears disputes or ground rent arrears.
The purpose of such tribunals is to avoid the cost, delay and expense often associated with the court process by having a panel of experts which can make decisions more quickly which afford parties more flexibility. The LVT did however attract criticism because it was deemed to favour freeholders and landlords at the expense of leaseholders. Not only did LVTs sometimes get to know freeholders which owned large blocks or multiple properties but it was deemed to be too simple for freeholders to withhold information which may be central to the leaseholder’s case. One perceived advantage of the First-Tier Tribunal is that it will have more powers to force disclosure and will also make it easier for leaseholders to obtain certain documentation themselves from the freeholder.
Whilst it will take time for the new tribunal to bed in, the early signs appear encouraging and the changes have been met with cautious positivity from surveyors and solicitors. Whereas the LVT appeared to lack authority, the new tribunal will have greater clout which could help to redress the perceived imbalance favouring freeholders. Sanctions can now be used for uncooperative or recalcitrant parties, including omission from the process. For cases which are obviously meritless, parties will be able to apply for the case to be struck off. The power of the tribunal to award costs will also change, as unlimited costs can now be awarded compared to the £500 limit imposed on the LVT.
There will need to be a period of adjustment for landlords and freeholders as well as surveyors and solicitors. However, it seems that the new tribunal should be a positive change provided that it makes the process clearer and more accessible to the public.
Our lease enfranchisement solicitors can help you with the new First-Tier Tribunal
Make sure that the solicitor you instruct to help you with your freehold enfranchisement case understands the tribunal process and will able to maximise your interests should such intervention be required.
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