The Tribunal Service was initially set up to provide a low cost way for parties to argue landlord and tenant disputes in front of an expert panel without the parties incurring the very high costs of full-on litigation. However, if you are unprepared it can be quite a shock.
Make the right application
While you may understand all about your problem the Tribunal will only know what you set out on the forms. There are several basis on which a landlord or tenant can apply, so read everything very carefully and make sure you use the right application form. Include the correct fee and attach the lease.
Be aware of what the tribunal can - and cannot do
Recent cases remind us that the Tribunal has only certain set powers. Research what the Tribunal has authority to do and make sure you are seeking an outcome that is within the Tribunal’s ability to give.
The Tribunal is a part of the UK Court system and there is a degree of formality that has to be observed. Carefully keep track of the timetable you are given and stick to the dates. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare and keep well organised copies of everything you intend to use.
Often once a problem has escalated to a formal dispute emotions can run high - nothing the other party has ever done has ever been right. Try not to let the key issues that really matter get buried under a mountain of trivial argument about other things that while annoying are not so important.
If the dispute concerns money (and most do) prepare evidence of alternative costs such as rents, repair costs etc and set out any calculations you make clearly so the Tribunal can follow exactly what you are asking for and why.
Statement of case
You will need to set out your full case in writing, called a Statement of Case. This is a full description of your argument. This must also include any other documents you wish to show the Tribunal (such as photographs, service charge statements, contractor’s invoices, witness statements and reports from expert surveyors or valuers). Unlike TV courtroom dramas, the Tribunal hate surprises. All this needs to be sent to Tribunal and the other parties to the dispute ahead of time in an organised format. Documents produced at the last minute might not be allowed to be used.
Everybody is keen to save money on professional advice, but be ruthlessly realistic with yourself about what is, and is not, within your ability to deal with. You may be dealing with a party who is represented by solicitors, surveyors or even a barrister who will be able to use their considerable experience and expertise to prepare their arguments. Such property professionals will be able to help you see your case from an expert viewpoint and guide you through what can be a traumatic process. There are often disputes where such advice will be invaluable to you.
John Byers is a Director at LBB Chartered Surveyors