Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Winning Compromise

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Winning Compromise

Article excerpt

Byline: NICOLA VENNING

YOU may recall my dispute with my freeholder, reported on this page on 14 February.

The building insurers on my rented-out flat had, in their wisdom, sent a cheque for [pound]465 in settlement of an insurance claim to the policyholder, the freeholder, rather than to me, although I had paid for the repairs.

The freeholder was withholding this payment in lieu of outstanding and disputed fees for service charges. My argument was: why should I pay service charges when there had been no service? The freeholder had replied: why should he pay me an insurance cheque (for repairs I had paid for) when I owed him money?

My solicitor, who had been instructed to help me with the sale of the property and not a civil dispute, wrote to the freeholder suggesting a compromise. I would not pursue my claim against him for costs incurred "in relation to his breach of covenant to maintain and repair" (his duty as freeholder) if he agreed I owed him no further money (for service charges, ground rent and so on) and released the insurance cheque.

We waited and waited for a reply.

After a month, my solicitor rang: the freeholder refused to budge. I owed him money, he claimed, and therefore the insurance cheque was his. I knew he had forced a previous lessee to pay backdated service charges even though no maintenance had been undertaken. And because I too was selling and needed the paperwork to be in order, he felt he could do the same to me. I could not let this happen.

Whatever action I was going to take, I needed to know my legal position. I already had proof that he was a negligent freeholder and if it came to court, I would not have to pay the service charges. I was less clear on the insurance cheque. Could he withhold it?

A quick phone call to Homes & Property lawyer Fenton Bressler reassured me: the freeholder could not act in this way. …

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