Managing the handover

The beauty parade is over; you’ve picked up a substantial new block with a winning combination of excellent service and value for money. And this is when the fun can start: securing the paperwork from the previous managing agent. Clare Brady offers practical advice on how to ensure a smooth handover when taking on a new block.

When you take over a new block, you need as much personal, financial and property documentation as possible from your predecessors. As a bare minimum, Brady Solicitors advises you to ask for the previous six years’ documentation relating to service charge accounts and supporting contractor invoices; service charge demands; and any Section 20 Notices that have been served.

Without this to hand, you may find it difficult to deal with disputes by leaseholders. At worst, you may find yourself in court or LVT proceedings where you have to write off arrears and pay legal costs –  a situation we all agree is best avoided.

So how best to ensure the documents are handed over? If you are inheriting a block from an agent with a less-than-perfect track record then you may have to work hard to get the information you need. Brady Solicitors has identified three legal remedies that can help you:

Bring a claim of ‘Trespass to Goods’

A claim of Trespass to Goods can be brought on the basis that, where there is a Client (landlord/RMC) and Agent (managing agent) relationship, the file is the property of the client and should be delivered up by the agent whenever requested.

Bring a claim of ‘Conversion’

Conversion is defined as ‘a voluntary act by one person inconsistent with the ownership rights of another’, for example – a former managing agent refusing to deliver service charge documentation, without the agreement of the landlord. InSchwarzschild v Harrods Ltd [2008], the court of appeal confirmed that for such a claim to arise, there has to be both an unequivocal demand for delivery up and an unequivocal refusal to do so. This means that an outright refusal does need to be communicated by the previous agent.

Join the previous managing agent to any proceedings

As a third route for securing the documentation you could threaten to join the previous managing agent to any proceedings (including service charge claims) where a leaseholder is alleging some failure of duties by the previous agent, such as non-receipt of invoices. If the invoices have in fact been properly served, the previous agents should be pursued as above for delivery up within those proceedings. If the invoices have not been properly served, a claim for negligence against the previous agents can be made within the same action.

It can be a battle to secure the documentation that will let you manage the block to your best ability but, with a combination of some strong legal tactics and the support of your client, you can maximise your chances of a smooth and swift handover.

For information on any of the ideas raised in this blog or for a confidential conversation about any aspect of your legal property management requirements, please email us or call on 0115 985 3450.

A version of this article appeared in News on the Block magazine in March 2012.
The Brady Solicitors blog is for information and entertainment purposes only. Whilst we make every effort to ensure all information is accurate and up to date, it does not constitute a comprehensive review of the applicable law and should not be relied upon as such. For help with a specific legal matter or dispute please contact a solicitor (preferably one at Brady Solicitors!)

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