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Property Disputes

Whether your issue concerns residential or commercial property we have one of the largest teams of specialist litigators in the South East including partners, solicitors, trainees and paralegals. We are experienced in acting in a range of property litigation disputes nationally.

RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY

Our property litigation team act for landlords of property nationwide, helping landlords evict bad tenants and in dealing with situations where rent arrears have accrued or where a tenant is claiming damages for disrepair. In many cases we are able to offer our fixed fee possession service and our team have successfully acted in hundreds of possession and landlord and tenant claims. Typically we only act for landlords. The law in this area has changed significantly in the last ten years or so especially. The law is precise and apparently minor problems can lead to wasted time and costs. We help landlords resolve these problems and issues with the minimal fuss and cost. The advice we always give is tailored to regaining possession and any arrears a quickly, cheaply and as painlessly as possible.

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We are also experienced in dealing with more complex property litigation including more significant claims and frequently help landlords and freehold owners, developers, portfolio owners or offshore companies claiming to recover losses or defend claims issued against them. We also assist construction companies nationally resolve and avoid disputes involving litigation and adjudications.

We frequently act for block managers in dealing with lessees who have fallen into service charge arrears and are able to assist and advise people involved in first tier tribunal proceedings.

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Our work includes services for commercial landlords as well as residential property landlords. We frequently act for landlords of commercial property in dealing with breaches of lease and forfeiture and are happy to assist and advise in this legal area.

The starting point is always to call us and we will be happy to speak with you without any charge or obligation. If we can help you we will say how and will be clear on what it will cost you. In many property disputes we are able to charge low fixed fees or can enter into no win, no fee agreements backing our own advice.

We help landlords and letting agents nationally give outstanding service to their landlords by giving access to a free telephone advice line with us. This includes access to updates and checklists designed to make your life as an agent easier. To register or to ask us about how this service works click here.

Call us on 01273 761990 or email [email protected] to discuss your issue or problem without any initial charge or obligation or for further details of our services for residential and commercial landlords click below;

If you rent out a flat, there can be obligations and restrictions in your lease and the constitution of the management company/association. There might be rules regarding pets, running a business, causing noise disturbances, the location of satellite dishes, etcetera listed in the rules of the building. Your tenancy agreements must detail these to ensure the tenant is aware of and complies with them. If your tenant breaches any of them the freeholder will demand that you take action against your tenant to stop the breach. If you fail to do so you could be liable for significant costs or even forfeit your lease.

Besides this, the landlord is generally not responsible for the activities of the tenant unless you authorised them.

Call our free legal advice line for landlords if you’re unsure of your responsibilities regarding a tenant’s behaviour.

Landlords can ask prospective tenants to provide:

  • A reference from their most recent landlord
  • A reference from their current employer
  • A bank reference

It’s also advised that you get a credit check on them. If possible a guarantor with assets is very good way to minimise your risk.

New “right to rent” rules mean that landlords now have an obligation to check any prospective tenant’s immigration status to ensure they’re allowed to rent in England (this does not apply in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland). The same applies to lodgers. If a landlord is discovered to be letting property to a person who is not legally allowed to remain in England, they can face a penalty fine of £1,000 for the first offence and £3,000 for further offences.

You should ask prospective tenants for proof of residency in England and make copies of these, writing the date on your copies. Proof of residency in England can be provided by the following:

  • Valid passport from an EEA country
  • Valid ID card from an EEA country
  • Valid passport and visa granting the right to rent in England
  • Asylum seeker ID card granting the right to rent

There are other options available for those who don’t hold passports. If a prospective tenant’s residency is valid only for a limited time, you should note the date of expiry. A complete list of valid documents showing a right to rent and more information about the rules can be found on the GOV.UK website.

When letting to a company, the company’s details should be checked with Companies House. Credit checks should also be made.

Even when thorough checks are made, you can’t be guaranteed a good tenant. You should still keep an eye on them and be prepared to take action if they fail to pay rent or cause other issues. Ensuring that you have a strong written agreement and a guarantor will help protect you in case of any problems. Helix Law can help landlords construct tenancy agreements and guarantor agreements – speak with our property specialist lawyers today.

Landlords are legally obliged to have all (fixed and mobile) gas appliances, as well as ventilation such as chimney flues, checked each year to ensure they are safe. If a managing agent is managing your property, be clear on whether they will organise this or if it is your responsibility. Still, if they are tasked with organising the checks, it’s your legal responsibility to ensure the checks have been made.

Gas appliance and ventilation checks should be made by a registered Gas Safe engineer. The Gas Safe register can be used to ensure they are registered, or call them on 0800 408 5500. Once the checks are completed, the engineer should provide a landlord’s annual safety certificate; a copy of which should be given to the tenant less than 28 days after the checks were made. A copy of the current certificate should also be given to new tenants prior to moving in. Make sure that tenants also have all the information needed about appliances in the property, for example instruction manuals.

Be aware that there are legal restrictions surrounding gas appliances like heaters placed in any room being used as a bedroom. If there are any such appliances in bedrooms, they should be considered for replacement or you should seek advice to ensure they are allowed.

You must provide a copy of the property’s Energy Performance Certificate to all new tenants and prospective tenants viewing the property. To get this, a registered energy assessor should be commissioned to inspect the property. Find a registered assessor through the Ministry of Housing’s official registry. They will check the property’s age, construction, layout, heating, insulation, lighting and other energy-related factors.

The Energy Performance Certificate rates the property’s energy efficiency, based on the cost of running the property’s electricity. It also gives an environmental impact rating based on how much carbon dioxide the property is deemed to release into the atmosphere. Ratings are given with a letter, from A to G in both cases. They may include recommendations on how to improve the property’s energy efficiency, like installing better insulation, but you’re not required to implement them. However, your tenant will have access to the certificate and may request that you act. There is sometimes financial assistance available for improvements. The Landlord’s Energy Saving Allowance scheme, for example, may allow you to exempt up to £1,500 per property against income tax, if you spend it on some kinds of insulation. It’s worth investigating whether you qualify.

Getting an Energy Performance Certificate generally costs between £35 to £100 depending on the value, location and size of the property, and the supplier. Certificates are valid for ten years, regardless of how many tenants come and go in that time.

If you own several similar properties, you might be able to commission only one Energy Performance Certificate to cover all of them; but you will need advice on your options.

There are many responsibilities and mandatory activities involved in letting property, such as:

  • Finding suitable tenants
  • Performing background checks on those tenants including “right to rent” checks
  • Preparing an appropriate and effective tenancy agreement
  • Preparing a property inventory
  • Maintaining the property itself plus any common spaces like hallways in buildings with multiple occupancies
  • Providing services agreed in contracts with tenants
  • Keeping up to date with whether tenants have paid their rent
  • Ensuring that tenants are not breaching terms in their tenancy agreements
  • Dealing with tenant complaints or problems with the property
  • Dealing with rental terminations when they arise

Many landlords decide to manage much of this themselves to cut costs. However, the reality of managing a rental property can be very strenuous, especially if you don’t live locally.

Managing agents typically charge 10-15% of the rental to take care of all of the above on your behalf. However, terms vary so you should ensure you have an agreement in writing detailing what the agent’s responsibilities are. For instance, some agencies will charge a fixed percentage for basic duties but will add extra charges for anything beyond those specified duties, for example having to visit the site more than three times in one year. Be absolutely clear on what your liabilities would be in a scenario like a problem with the property requiring several visits to resolve. You should also be confident that the agent will properly fulfil their responsibilities.

It’s worth checking whether an agent is a member of these reputable trade bodies: the National Approved Lettings Scheme, the National Association of Estate Agents, or the Association of Residential Letting Agents.

There are a few legal obligations with regards to the following:

  • Gas appliances
  • Electrical equipment
  • Energy information
  • Furnishings and furniture
  • Repairs
  • The property’s general condition

The property must be safe and well-maintained. For more information on any of the above see the Government website or contact our free landlord’s advice line.

As well as this, you might wish to make cosmetic alterations for commercial purposes. Upgrading the property is likely to increase the amount of rent you’re able to charge. You might also wish to modify things to meet the requirements of your target tenant demographic.

Yes. The landlord is legally required to maintain the property to ensure an acceptable standard for habitation. This includes maintaining the building’s structure and exterior; the water, gas and electricity installations; and fittings like toilets and showers.

You are legally required to take steps to ensure the premises are safe. This includes ensuring the safety of electrical and gas appliances and any furniture in the property. If necessary you must repair or replace them.

You must carry out the repair obligations that were agreed in the tenancy agreement. In the past, there was an ‘annual wear and tear allowance’ in terms of expenses you are able to claim, which amounted to 10% of the net rent. Now, the rules have changed so that you can claim back the actual costs incurred when improving or maintaining the property, whether it is furnished, part-furnished or unfurnished.

The landlord is responsible for electrical safety in the property, though there are no regulations that specify exactly what you must do.

You are required to make ‘reasonable steps’ towards ensuring electrical safety. These might include:

  • Ensuring appliances are in good working condition, or purchasing new ones from reputable suppliers
  • Getting electrical installations like wiring inspected by a qualified electrician
  • Ensuring that appliances contain correct fuses
  • Annually inspecting appliances for wear or issues
  • Annually having all electricals inspected by a qualified electrician
  • Providing all appropriate instructions, manuals and information to tenants

Keep a record of all steps taken to ensure electrical safety.

If you want to take action against a tenant, you must follow the correct procedures. A court order is needed in order to evict a tenant.

Unlawfully evicting or harassing a tenant is a criminal offence, which could lead to fines or even imprisonment. The tenant can also sue you for damages. This is still the case even if they breached the terms of the tenancy agreement.

Seek legal advice in this instance and contact Helix Law’s property specialist solicitors.

First, you must insure the building and the contents. If you already have this insurance on a domestic policy you should check whether it would still cover the property if it’s rented out – it likely won’t. You will likely need to switch to a business or landlord’s insurance.

Where you are letting a flat, the building management company/association usually have landlord’s insurance already. Standard policies usually insure the building and contents, but note that this does not include insure any contents owned by the tenants. The cover might include compensation for any loss of rent plus any damage; for instance, in situations where you have to offer tenants a rent reduction while damage repairs are being made.

Landlord insurance policy packages usually include cover for landlords’ liability and legal expenses in case of a tenant being injured or suffering damage to their property. If you aren’t insured under such a package it is worth considering taking out cover for these events separately.

When letting a premises under an assured shorthold tenancy, you are legally obliged to protect the deposit in a tenancy deposit scheme. You must provide information regarding the deposit to the tenant within 14 days.

There are three government-authorised schemes:

  • Tenancy Deposit Scheme: an insurance-based scheme that is only open to approved trade association members. The landlord or managing agent holds the deposit but a fee is paid to insure the money. If the landlord or agent wrongfully fails to repay the deposit, the insurance company will pay it back. The tenant pays nothing.
  • MyDeposits: this insurance-based scheme works in the same way as the Tenancy Deposit Scheme.
  • Deposit Protection Service: this service allows any landlord to hold a deposit in a bank account. Once the tenancy ends, the deposit is returned to the person who is entitled to it. The scheme is free for both tenants and landlords.

If landlords fail to protect tenants’ deposits they lose the right to recover the possession of their property by only giving the tenant notice under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 – which is the usual reason for using an assured shorthold tenancy. Failing to comply with deposit protection rules can also result in landlords having to pay a fine of between one and three times the amount of the original deposit.

It’s advisable to seek specialist legal counsel if you are involved in a dispute, to help ensure your position is safeguarded. Speak to Helix Law today for advice on these matters.

Landlords are legally obliged to take reasonable steps in ensuring their rental property is safe. Failure to do so could result in them being liable for injuries sustained or damage to the property as a result of that failure.

To protect yourself as a landlord, set up a regular program of safety inspections and maintenance, including proper maintenance of electrical and gas appliances.

You also need to ensure you are easily contacted by the tenant and/or the agency, and that if there is a problem, you respond quickly.

Lastly, ensure you hold all the proper insurances. Certain providers have landlord’s insurance packages that cover landlord’s liability and legal expenses that are worth looking out for. To make sure you’re properly covered in the event of injury or damage, consult our property solicitors at Helix Law.

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Contact Helix Law on 01273 761 990 or email: [email protected]