As landlords, tenants, management companies and managing agents, if you own property or act in property matters you will need legal advice and assistance at some stage. It may be a simple one-off piece of advice or it may be a more involved matter. Where do you go? How do you know that the solicitor on the other end of the telephone will have the experience you need?
One would expect the first point of call to be your existing solicitor. As they will have acted for you in the past they will know you and as they may have some knowledge of your property they will probably be able to assist and deal with the advice required.
If you do not have an appointed solicitor, and do not have a suitable recommendation, you may in the past have turned to the list of practitioners on the website of The Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE). LEASE used to have a long list of practitioners (not just solicitors) who deal with leasehold matters ranging from lease extensions, collective enfranchisements and Right to Manage to service charge and other disputes. However that list function at LEASE has been discontinued due to a lack of funding.
You could contact a solicitor from the list of solicitors on the website of the Association of Leasehold Enfranchisement Practitioners (ALEP). ALEP is an organisation that has vetted its members before they are entitled to join the Association. The members are specialists in leasehold matters. The Association also has members that are valuers and some other professionals too. It would be unlikely that you could not find and instruct a suitable solicitor from the ALEP list of members.
Most solicitors acting in the field of leasehold advice will usually give the first 20 or 30 minutes of their time without making a charge or offer an initial fixed fee interview. You should seek confirmation of this. Many people are surprised that solicitors will often give “free advice” in their specialist subject. However this is generally the case. It can be over the telephone or in a meeting. If it is a matter that needs to be taken further the initial discussion will enable the solicitor to gain a good idea of what is involved, what needs to be done, how long it might take and how much it is likely to cost. Once the solicitor understands your case and what you want to achieve they will advise you of the costs so that you know what to expect.
Most solicitors are prepared to give advice on a pro bono basis to a limited extent or for a fixed fee and so far as they are able to do so. Most things in life, as we all know, are not free. Very few gifts are given these days but sometimes you will be surprised.
It is like the man who wanted to start beekeeping, he went to his local pet shop and explained the position. The shopkeeper was very friendly and he said he knew exactly what to do. So he gave the man a jar of bees and an invoice for ten bees. When the man looked at the jar and the bees inside the jar he counted eleven bees (not ten). When he queried this with the shopkeeper he was told that the eleventh bee was a freebie! He was very impressed.
The service that the solicitor provides will be the same excellent service whether it is work that is being paid for or not. Solicitors pride themselves in giving the best advice that they can to their clients whether they are existing clients or potential new clients. They will always look to find an affordable solution whatever the clients’ circumstances.
What does the client need to do?
It is essential that the client is able to provide a concise summary as to the issue that the client needs advice on. The solicitor will want (particularly if it is initial free advice) to keep to the pertinent points such as key dates and times. The client must also provide any necessary documents.
For issues involving service charges, for example, the solicitor will want (and need) to inspect the lease and any deed of variation as these documents form the contract between the landlord and the tenant. The solicitor will also want to see any relevant correspondence on the subject. It may even be sensible (if the solicitor agrees) for the client to send these documents/papers to the solicitor prior to the discussion whether over the telephone or at a meeting.
The solicitor is likely to give the advice orally. If a written advice is requested it is likely that the solicitor will want to review again the instructions and the facts and draft a suitable letter of advice which may well be beyond the initial fixed fee or fee free interview.
It may be necessary for the solicitor to research any unusual aspects of the instruction as solicitors do not know every law and point of detail by heart. The client will expect the solicitor to take all reasonable care in considering the matter before the solicitor provides the advice in writing.
The solicitor may well require other information, e.g. from a surveyor or a valuer before being able to finalise an advice. That professional may or may not offer a free initial service.
In addition the solicitor is going to want to identify the client and see evidence that the client owns the property concerned.
The first step is to get in touch even if the client is not sure if a solicitor can help or not. Do not be afraid to seek legal advice. It is better to do so at the earliest possible stage than let matters deteriorate to the extent that it is more difficult to solve the problem later on.
Unlike the bees, solicitors do not sting – they do try and help!
Stephen Simmons, Solicitor at Redferns Solicitors