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Charges for underletting: what is reasonable?

In February the President of the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) gave Judgement in respect of various charges for underlettings in a number of joined cases, the lead case being Holding and Management (Solitaire) Limited v. Norton [2012] UKUT 1 (LC).

Suffice to say the President substantially reduced the fees payable both for advance and retrospective consent determining the fee payable should be £40+VAT.

Obviously, as we have repeatedly blogged upon, the starting point is the lease terms and what they provide. Many leases however do provide that either some form of advance consent is required or notice must subsequently be given. Generally if such provisions exist there will be an express or implied right for the Freeholder/Managing Agent to charge a reasonable fee. In making such a charge they must ensure that the same is reasonable and also serve the appropriate Summary of Rights.

In this case the Agent asserted that a large amount of specific work was required including review by qualified legal staff. No specific hourly rate was given but it was suggested that in total the process took about 3 hours. There were no details as to what work had been done in each of the cases in question and the President took the view that the list of work was a list of everything that conceivably could be done and was not evidence of what was done.

Certainly many Leaseholders complain that the costs they are charged for underlettings are too high for the work undertaken whereas Landlords conversely argue they have very real duties to all Leaseholders (and sometimes the block Insurers) to exercise appropriate due diligence. What is clear is that the President accepted that a Landlord may need to carry out appropriate checks but in calculating the fee they need to be able to demonstrate, generally, and with regards to the specific case how the fee is justified. It seems that Landlords and their Agents should ensure that they consider whether they wish to maintain time records in case of challenge.

Whilst many people simply pay (even if begrudgingly) there is a route open for challenge of Administration fees and it may only be a question of time before some Landlords make their own advance applications to determine that the charges they make are reasonable.

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