Or an RSL behaving badly, again. And this time it’s personal…
21 Press House, Press Road LON/00AE/LSC/2007/0292 [pdf], an LVT decision. The landlord, Stadium Housing Association, were facing an application over hefty service charges made on an shorthold assured tenancy which was Part VII temporary accommodation for Brent Council.
How did Stadium Housing decide to defend the case? By attacking the integrity of the Tribunal. Stadium pointed out that the chair, Nik Nicol, was a member of the Housing Law Practioner’s Association (yes, Hlpa!). Stadium, via their counsel Mr Grundy, alleged that:
the purpose of Hlpa was to promote the interests of tenants […] and it was as plain as a pikestaff that an “ordinary member of the public” would perceive members of Hlpa as biased in favour of tenants.
Nik Nicol pointed out that he was not just a member, but had been on the executive of Hlpa for 9 years and helped to write the constitution. In addition, another member of the sitting Tribunal, Mel Cairns, was also a founder member of Hlpa and is currently on the committee.
Stadium, it was pointed out, had utterly failed to understand the difference between ‘promoting the rights of tenants’ (Hlpa aim) and promoting the interests of tenants. Finding in favour if a tenant without basis in evidence and law would not be promoting the rights of the tenant. In addition Hlpa’s code of conduct commits its members to professional behaviour. There could be little that was more unprofessional than judicial bias, which was what was being suggested.
Hlpa’s stated objectives were notably similar to those of most RSLs and would not look out of place on Stadium’s website, so it would be hard to see how a member of the public could perceive bias.
Mr Grundy’s submissions would mean that no member of Hlpa could ever hold judicial position, simply by that membership and that would make a mockery of the rigorous selection process. There was no bias or appearance of bias.
Just why Stadium might have taken this utterly ridiculous approach is clear in the rest of the Judgment. They were levying a walloping £129.72 per week service charge. However:
- It was improperly apportioned under the tenancy agreement
- Services had been changed without notification or consultation
- Stadium could provide no breakdown of the charge
- Charges weren’t audited, despite Housing Corp requirements
- The charge was very high in comparison to others, for no reason, but it was usually paid by Housing Benefit, so nobody cared (except the applicant, who was working).
- The contract was not individually negotiated so the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations were engaged
- The applicant was being asked to pay a charge for things that “no assured shorthold tenant in the private sector would even think of paying, even if the landlord were minded to try to impose it”.
- On reasonableness of other charges, there was simply no evidence provided of the actual costs incurred by the respondent. The Tribunal wasn’t prepared to guesstimate on no evidence.
The result, service charges of £42.75 per week payable, a drop of £87 per week. This amount to be retrospective. No subsequent changes to the service charge made by the respondent were valid.
Oh dear, oh dear. Probably best not to impugn the professionalism of the Tribunal when it is your utter lack of professionalism that is about to come to light.
This challenge to service charges for temporary accommodation under Part VII is worth bearing in mind when, for example a client is facing a ‘rent arrears’ possession from temporary accommodation, if a service charge component is levied, at least. Stadium are far from alone in their cack-handed handling of the charge.