A costly case against Brighton leaseholders – but tribunal undercut by settlement

Brighton and Hove City Council’s legal advisers made a complete mess of their tribunal case this week against 39 leaseholders on the Bristol Estate.

Shula Rich

Many leaseholders were still going through the disputes procedure but the council went to a tribunal anyway.

The idea was to get a decision on the million-pound major works bills, using the Bristol Estate as an example.

Approximately half the tenants formed Justice for Tenants and pooled funds to pay for a surveyor and barrister to defend themselves.

The others were not represented.

The council brought over 3,000 pages of evidence to support its case for surrounding their buildings with cladding and as a consequence changing the windows as well as roof and concrete repairs.

Bills were up to £25,000 per flat.

There were nine council representatives including a barrister, legal staff and building experts.

The leaseholders had one barrister and one surveyor.

However, before the start of the case the council barrister offered a deal to those leaseholders who were represented – at a substantial discount.

The council had previously refused any negotiation but its legal team were now offering a discount before the counter-arguments were even heard.

Were they afraid for them to be aired?

An “out of court” settlement was agreed. The council was rumoured to have spent a sum close to a quarter of a million pounds on legal fees, caved in and offered a substantial discount limited to those who were represented and not applying to the 20 who were not.

One leaseholder was left who disputed the window costs but apart from this there was now no opposition to be heard.

The other 20 leaseholders did not attend. No one was clear if they had been told that the case was taking place.

The council barrister galloped through its evidence and the case ended on the second afternoon on Tuesday (25 September).

The council left with its credibility in tatters as any decision on the strength of its case was destroyed by its barrister’s own goal in offering a discount before the council had even begun to make that case.

Shula Rich attended the tribunal as an observer on behalf of the Brighton, Hove and District Leaseholders Association.

  1. david croydon Reply

    An interesting but expensive few days. I’m still uncertain who got what documents and who had what responsibility to send what to whom.
    Equally, apart from the group of us who settled, who will get what and when (if anything); we have to await the tribunal findings for that.
    It will be interesting to see the council’s version of what has been achieved by bypassing their own dispute procedures and mediation.

    • Janine Reply

      Hello David, were you a lease holder to what happened with this case. We are having the same issues we have been charged £17000 for a new roof for our flat. Who did you use for your surveyor. Unfortunately there is only us who is fighting this as there are not many lease holders in our close.
      Many thanks

  2. Anon Reply

    Well done Shula! You and the small group of leaseholders did it!
    Such a great win against the corrupt council..
    and more good news:

  3. J Reply

    Shows the power of people organising and standing up for themselves against bullies. You really have to wonder if the council have poked the hornet’s nest here though – if only those that got involved get reductions through the settlement then they’ve just incentivised as many leaseholders as possible to get involved in any future actions!

  4. KM Reply

    J there are many more of these disputes to come – accross the city Mears have used their postion to advise the council to carry out packages of repairs that cost 10% or more than the value of the properties. This is the open market value not the rebuild cost! If this level of investment is really required I would suggest as a social landlord the finacial model of major repairs to rebuilt to modern standards / requirments must be tight.

    Well done to the JFT group however interesting that public officials opt for the back room deal approach at this stage in proceedings. What does this tell you about the opacity of BHCC…..

  5. Shula Rich Reply

    My questions

    Why begin the negotiations as soon as the leaseholders reach the tribunal when this could have happened from the start ?
    Why not work together with tenants to get the best deal possible for the
    people rather than try and bully leaseholders to pay gross amounts for work that was never agreed.

  6. Stewart Gillies Reply

    An outstanding result for Dave and Shula as well as the participants in The Bristol Estate. Congratulations for your dogged determination.

    Amazing that BHCC went so far and spent so much before caving in.

    BHCC did however avoid getting a clear negative judgement from the tribunal which would have helped put some lines downto to help leaseholders in future cases.

    For the Bristol leaseholders, avoiding the risks and uncertainties of a tribunal judgment and getting a good settlement makes sound business sense.

  7. Anon Reply

    Well done Shula, Dave and everyone else involved in winning this case.

    What a shocking waste of time and money the council has yet again caused… absolutely appalling!

    When will the mismanagement of B&H housing budget be brought under control?

  8. Shula Rich Reply

    When will the officers understand that they can work with tenants ( long and short) to decide and monitor
    work. Their partners are ‘us’ not the contractors

    Working with us means
    agreed outcome
    not shouting at us from platforms
    not circulating patronising gobbledygook …
    sharing knowledge

  9. karen young Reply

    That Cllr Ann Meadows who is in charge of housing needs to wake up and smell the stink of the seeming collusion between the council and Mears that has been going on…..work that is charged but not done, massively overcharging of labour and materials which then goes on to benefit the council because then they charge a percentage on the cost….so the more the cost ….the more the council uplift is, presumably because they are supposed to come and check the work has been done by Mears. Cosy little arrangement of Mears office in Mousecombe being right next door to the council dept in charge of all this……and yet such a bad service…shambolic….haven’t even mentioned unnecessary works

    • Valerie Paynter Reply

      Its a shame that the calibre of persons needed to provide effective, involved oversight and critical scrutiny din’t join political parties ir if they do, are not selected to stand for election.

      And its an even bigger shame that the public just vote for a party without looking at what their vote for particular people actually buys them.

      Next year such an ideal candidate will stand down in Brunswick & Adelaide (Olie). He found an over £200,000 error in budget papers that nobody else did.

      Cllr Joe Miller has what it takes but the Tory party machine is busy indoctrinating him into identikit shape so his natural excellence is less visible than when he began.

      There are so few with the education, whether academic or trade to be able to take on the officers in fudge and obfuscate mood – or willingness.

      Wish Ward is lucky there: Robert Nemeth & Gary Peltzer Dunn are terrific. Brunswick has Phelim MacCafferty & Ollie. East Brighton will lose Gill Mitchell next year leaving a big hole in Labour’s team. David Gibson is proving highly valuable and involved in scrutinising on Housing Cttee. Dawn Barnett is a seriously vigilant ward cllr who knows her strengths & weaknesses & makes best use of herself concentrating on her ward. And Dan Yates is a properly listening party leader but these are not enough…

      Sadly, doing a decent job requires a time & effort commitment for very little recompense & Parties choose loyalty & apathy over active diligence in choosing candidates.

  10. Martin Reply

    Brighton council is hardly exemplary in the way it deals with leaseholders but it’s not the only council, or freeholder, to behave poorly at times. Remember the Mars corporation and Embassy Court! Doesn’t make it right. The leaseholders are wise to protect their interests. Whatever any of us think of the right to buy, owning a leasehold is legal. It doesn’t make you rich or a milk cow to be exploited. If work needs doing, and inevitably it will, then the sides should follow the consultation procedures laid down in law and the disputes process included in the leasehold agreement. Having spoken to some council leaseholders in Brighton, it’s not hard to conclude the housing dept is run by ideologues who think leaseholders should be punished for having the temerity not to be tenants.

  11. Questions what is written Reply

    If as the story depicts, the council caved in and negotiated a deal prior to the hearing (as they where perceived to be worried), why on earth didn’t the group hold their ground and go into the tribunal to gain as much as possible- unless they themselves were worried that they wouldn’t achieve such a compromising offer? It would suggest that this isn’t the best or most accurate news story ever.

  12. djc Reply

    …because both the barrister and the surveyor advised that this would be the safest option and because the costs were already quite high enough. I would have been risking other people’s money against advice for a matter of principle.

  13. Pingback: Council Grilled By Government Select Committee - Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition

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