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Solicitors and Costs

In Neil Hare-Brown and QCC v Tent and Alison Trent and Co, QCC had 3 commercial leases for a property in Fleet Street, London. However, QCC had “swapped” company names and this had potential adverse consequences for Trent the landlord. The possible consequences were:

1. as income had been directed by QCC to the new company, there was a risk that QCC would be unable to pay the rent.
2. the presence of the “new” company was likely to cause problems as it was a requirement of Alison Trent’s lender that the demised premises be contracted out of the Landlord and Tenant Act Part II (1954).
3. another company, QCC Interscan, had been permitted by QCC to use the premises in breach of covenant.
4. there was a security issue about electronic security fobs that had been issued to named personnel of QCC which had then been distributed to other individuals who had no right to enter the demised premises.

Upon discovering the issues Trent claimed that she was put to some considerable amount of work to put the situation right both in her capacity as landlord and solicitor. The work included the variation of leases and where necessary licenses to assign. Trent looked to QCC to pay the bills for this work and although QCC paid they did so under protest and now seek an assessment of the costs.

The question for the court was therefore could the landlords costs be assessed?

QCC argued that Trent had been appointed their solicitor upon her suggestion and that Trent had refused to acknowledge QCC’s request to use their own solicitor to draw up documents which left them with no other option than to permit her to do the work.

Trent argued that the costs that QCC was seeking to challenge related to costs due pursuant to leases and other commitments arising from applications under the leases, and breaches of the leases, by them. She further argued that the costs were due to her in her capacity as landlord and argued that she has never acted as solicitor for QCC or anyone connected with QCC.

The court held Trent could not, as she had done, require QCC to pay the costs to which she has been put as landlord arising from breaches of covenant and at the same time, deny that QCC had any entitlement to a detailed assessment of those costs under the Solicitors Act 1974.

The court acknowledged that whilst it is right to say that the invoices were not printed on the Solicitor’s headed notepaper, nonetheless, Trent had accepted in her witness statement that her firm acted for the Landlord. In these circumstances, the court was satisfied that there was a solicitor/client relationship between Alison Trent as landlord and Alison Trent & Co as solicitor and that the firm rendered invoices to Alison Trent which, in her capacity as landlord and party chargeable, she has passed on to QCC for payment as tenant and third party. It follows, in the judgment that QCC is in principle entitled to an assessment under s.71 of the 1974 Act.

We often get told on the helpline that the landlord is a solicitor and that attempts are being made to impose certain restrictions which in a landlord and tenant situation are simply inappropriate. We therefore thought some of you would enjoy the article.

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