It is rare, if we are entirely honest, for a First Tier Tribunal decision on service charges to be exciting. It is even rarer for there to be mystery and police raids, and “Immunity from Treason” notices, and debts of “Trillions of pounds”, and something called an ‘equity lawyer’. Yet here they all are, and more, in what on the face of it was a dispute over annual service charges of about £1200.
Cant v London Borough of Hackney LON/00AM/LSC/2016/0231
I’m not going to go into the actual service charge issues in any depth. Suffice to say the charges, including for maintenance, communal lighting, a toddlers’ play area and CCTV, were found to be reasonable and payable, not least because Mr Cant had “not adduced any compelling evidence, or any evidence at all in reality, which enables us to reduce any of the costs that have been claimed by the Council”.
But before we get to the excitement, it is also worth mentioning that the usual disparity of arms in the FTT was present. The leaseholder was in person (apart from a brief moment of the ‘equity lawyer’ attempting to ‘impose himself’) while Hackney had a barrister and in-house solicitor representing them. That said, I think counsel earned his keep. Reading between the lines, there were many points at which Beckett must have come to mind. ‘I can’t go on… I’ll go on’, or possibly, a la Dorothy Parker, ‘what fresh hell can this be?’
So, to the challenge as (finally) advanced by Mr Cant:
In his original statement of case, after having set out the items which caused him concern he then went on to refer to various pieces of legislation including the 1985 Landlord and Tenant Act, the 1987 Landlord and Tenant Act, the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, Data Protection Act, Harassment Act, Environmental Act 1995 and United Nations Convention on Disability Rights. He referred in particular to section 8 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 in respect of lettings of houses at low rent which we will return to in due course. The submission also specifically referred to section 19 of the 1985 Act and the Consumer Rights Act of 2015.
Under section C of his statement, he set out what he believed to be the numerous errors of the Council which included, for example, that a fee in respect of lifts should not be charged to him. Further, fees in relation to the upkeep of the toddler’s play area should not be charged to him as it was not a service he ever used and was not wanted by him. Indeed, it caused him considerable nuisance he said. The sanity “and mental age” of the Council was questionable because of the “low maturity of response.” The document then went on to consider the seven principles of public life and recited a number of references to articles in the Hackney Gazette and other references to examples of anti-social behaviour. Under a heading DBLC of SI references were made to world debt burden and master bond vouchers which were, with respect to Mr Cant, difficult to relate to the proceedings before this Tribunal. The statement then went on to deal with the provisions of section 20C of the 1985 Act and at page 173 of the bundles the statement went on to list again a number of issues that Mr Cant wished to raise concerning the actions or inactions of the Council. There then followed a heading of Understanding digital engagement in later life, where again references were made to matters that appear to have no relevance to this Tribunal.
There was a section relating to the terms of the lease confirming that Mr Cant purchased the lease in June of 1987 from a Mr Killi but that it appears no party explained the terms of the lease to Mr Cant and that the Council should have done so. It appears that Mr Cant was never informed prior to signing the lease that he would be liable to pay for repairs and other fees over a number of blocks on the estate and that this triggered the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977.
But that was not the limit of the pre-hearing submissions from Mr Cant, because;
Prior to the hearing, on 23rd November 2016, Mr Cant sent an email to the Tribunal and it is perhaps appropriate to record some of the contents so that it puts the evidence of Mr Cant and the basis of his case in some context. The email appears to be a notice of “Immunity from Treason” directed to employees, directors etc of UK PLC, the London Borough of Hackney, with interested parties suggested to be the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Justice, the Tribunal and all Judges involved. The email contends that this Tribunal had conspired with the Police to deny equality of arms by refusing to adjourn a hearing after the Police appeared to have taken possession of Mr Cant’s computer/computers. The suggestion made is that the Tribunal was an agent of the criminal cover up of the crimes committed by UK PLC in collusion with the London Borough of Hackney and Metropolitan Police. This purported to take the form of a statutory declaration signed by Mr Cant and two of his friends. We do not propose to go into any further detail in connection with this document, which is recited merely to indicate the difficulties that the Council, and indeed this Tribunal, had in dealing with Mr Cant’s claims.
At what turned out to be the first part of the hearing, the start was delayed “to give Mr Cant the chance to at least read the (Hackney’s) skeleton argument, which he had been offered when he arrived but refused to take”. Mr Cant then denied having received the bundle that Hackney had sent, suggesting it went to a neighbour’s address and he hadn’t had time to pick it up.
This problem with the bundles resulted in a further adjournment whilst the matter was investigated at which point Miss Berry intervened and we adjourned to give time for her to be removed from the Tribunal room. (This is the first and last mention of Miss Berry, but she appears to have left her mark.)
Unfortunately for Mr Cant, in the meantime, the courier company confirmed the bundle had been delivered to his address and he had signed for it.
The hearing progressed by way of Mr Cant cross examining Hackney’s witnesses, along the way admitting that his front door, for the lack of replacement of which he blamed Hackney, was in fact demised to him under the lease. After day 1, the hearing was adjourned for Hackney to make further submissions on the various issues raised by Mr Cant, and for Mr Cant to reply. Hackney did put in submissions. Mr Cant
filed a substantial bundle of documents which included what purported to be witness statements and other documents which were, with respect to Mr Cant, not relevant to the issues before us.
At the renewed hearing, it initially appeared that Mr Cant was represented
Mr Cant attended, again with Mr Smeaton and friends, but also Mr Edward William Ellis. The hearing started 15 minutes late and Mr Ellis immediately imposed himself indicating that he was assisting Mr Cant. We were informed by Mr Kilcoyne that Mr Ellis was a disqualified solicitor and that a formal order of the court had been made that he should not assist any party in proceedings. Mr Ellis told us that he was an equity lawyer and that because evidence had been retained by the Police until after the first hearing this had closed the evidence stage of the case and he had advised Mr Cant to rest his case without adducing any further evidence. We were not prepared to accept Mr Ellis as acting on behalf of Mr Cant. Mr Cant, however, said that he wished to conclude his case and not to produce further evidence, again prompted by Mr Ellis. After discussions with the parties and at Mr Kilcoyne’s suggestion, we adjourned the case for some half an hour or so to give Mr Cant the chance to consider his position. However, he returned to the hearing room and told us that “the citizen relies on the jurisdiction case and the documents before us and had no further comments to make.” He confirmed that this decision had been made freely.
Mr Edward William Ellis has something of a history. He is indeed a struck off solicitor, after a complaint about his services somehow turned into him accusing various Judges of perverting the course of justice. Such accusations being made to the SDT and to the High Court.
Somewhere long the line, Mr Ellis picked up a General Civil Restraint Order, which expired in February 2017, but was in force in January 2017 at this second hearing.
He also managed to play a somewhat comical bit part in the trial of two ‘McKenzie Friends’ in relation to the Hampstead ‘Satanic abuse’ fakery that resulted in restraining orders for the McKenzies involved.
Mr Ellis having been duly dispatched and Mr Cant’s evidence finished, the Tribunal reached its findings. As far as s.27A Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 went, Mr Cant had brought forward no specific evidence.
S.8 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985
does not apply in this case. It cannot, we would have thought, been Parliament’s intention that long leases that frequently have low rent levels would be subject to this provision. We find, on the basis of the submissions made and our consideration of the section, that service charges would be payable as rent and would, therefore, take the property outside the low rent provisions. In any event, if we are wrong, there is no evidence that this property was not fit for human habitation.
Mr Cant’s argument under the Unfair Contract Terms Act was not right – it was for his conveyancing solicitor to advise him on lease terms, not the Council.
Hackney was given a timescale to make an application for costs under rule 13 – unreasonable conduct. We don’t know if such an application was made.
And Mr Cant lost on everything. The service charges were payable and reasonable.
Well, that was a rollercoaster. I think we can safely add the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) to jurisdictions in which the ‘Freeman on the Land’ style arguments do not work (as in, they don’t work in any court or tribunal, civil or criminal, because they are a pile of steaming nonsense).