LAC saves £23k for tenant in dispute over service charge

The Legal Advice Centre (LAC) offered by the College of Law’s Store Street branch has dealt with hundreds of pro bono cases since its creation five years ago.

In particular, it works with the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal in London to provide free representation for clients. Most of the disputes are relatively minor; however, one recent case involved charges totalling £3m.

College of Law student Gordon Fraser, a 43-year-old student on the Bar Vocational Course (BVC), advised on the matter pro bono, which saw him save the client almost £23,000 in a dispute with her landlord.

The dispute concerned a family who lived in a Westminster mansion block, which had 73 separate apartments.

“Most of them were owned by companies and used by company executives when they were in town,” explains Fraser. “Although the service charges had risen out of all proportion, many of the leaseholders simply paid because it was a tax-deductible expense. But for my client it was her home.”

In 2001, each of the leaseholders was asked to contribute towards the cost of replacing the common service pipes that ran through the building. It was estimated that the renovations would cost £700,000 at a cost of £7,000 per leaseholder. However, costs escalated and the client was forced to pay a total of £14,565, but she refused to pay an additional £24,168.

The client’s apartment had also been repeatedly flooded, causing damage worth £7,390. She approached the centre because she wanted to pursue the case before the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal.

“Students generally pick up cases on the cab rank principle, and they vary,” explains Fraser, who was a chartered landscape architect before he decided to retrain. “I happened to get this one, which, by the standard of others, was much more complicated and in its early stages.”

The trainee claims to have spent 18 hours with his client and “double that” on research in case preparation.

In the end, the parties agreed to mediation. The landlord turned up with solicitors, having been advised by counsel. Agreement was reached, with the result that the tenant, who cannot be named as a result of a confidentiality agreement, paid £22,883 less than was demanded.

Fraser says: “I believe the centre is providing a major social function in the area and students are also getting a real boost in that they get to practise law.”