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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Settling leasehold disputes - Leasehold Valuation Tribunal

If you're having problems sorting out a leasehold dispute, you don’t have to go to court to settle it. You could appeal to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal for help. Find out about deadlines, costs and how to appeal and where to get advice.

When to appeal to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT)  

The LVT is an independent legal body that offers a fair way of settling a dispute without the need to go to court. Their decision is legally binding and they can deal with disputes about:

  • service, administration or management charges
  • appointing a manager for a block of flats
  • building insurance
  • buying the freehold
  • varying or extending a lease

Landlords can also ask the LVT for permission not to consult leaseholders about service charges. This is known as ‘dispensation with service charge consultation’.

Before you appeal to the LVT

Before you appeal, you could try mediation to settle the dispute. Mediation allows both sides to discuss their problem and work out a solution together without going to court or the LVT. There might be a fee to pay, but mediation is usually less expensive and less stressful than going to court. If the mediation doesn’t work, you're free to settle the dispute another way.

For more information about mediation, and to find a mediator, see the mediation section of 'Solving a dispute with a neighbour: an introduction'.

How to appeal to the LVT

If there’s more than one leaseholder you can make a joint application to the tribunal

You have to fill out an application form which you can get from the Residential Property Tribunal Service (RPTS). Send this to your nearest Rent Assessment Panel (the address is on the application form).

There is usually a time limit for appealing to the LVT, further details are on the application form.

How much does it cost to appeal?

You might have to pay up to £500 to appeal. The actual amount depends on the reason for your application and if you're asked to attend a hearing. Check the application guidance notes for more detail.

If you or your partner get certain benefits (for example, Income Support) these fees can be reduced or cancelled. For a full list of qualifying benefits, see the form, ‘Application to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal for a reduction or waiver of fees’. Fill out the form and send it with your application.

Check with a legal adviser to see what can be repaid to you, for example, if you win your case. They can also advise you if the landlord is able to recover their legal costs through the service charge.

How to pay the fees

You can pay your fees by postal order or cheque made payable to 'HM Courts and Tribunal Service'. Send this with your application form to the regional tribunal office. Do not send any cash to pay your fees. Cash payments will not be accepted and your money will be returned to you.

Getting help and advice

You can get free advice about your dispute from Citizens Advice or the Leasehold Advisory Service.

You can get someone to represent you at your appeal (like a solicitor or friend). If someone represents you, information about your case will be sent to them and not you. Any information the LVT asks for will usually have to be sent by them and not you.

You can get general information about appeals online from the RPTS or contact their helpline. Telephone 0845 600 3178, Monday to Thursday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm and Friday 9.00 am to 4.30 pm.

How the LVT makes its decision

You can get full details on how an appeal is managed from the RPTS. The basics steps are below.

Step one: the LVT will confirm it has received your application.

Step two: the respondent (person opposing your appeal) will be sent a copy and asked to confirm if they are going to oppose it.

Step three: the LVT might ask for further information, called ‘directions’. For example, a copy of the lease.

Step four: the LVT might inspect the property. The owner/occupier’s permission is needed for an internal inspection. The respondent can only attend an internal inspection if the owner/occupier agrees.

Step five: each side will be sent copies of all the evidence so they have a fair chance to comment on it.

Step six: your case will be considered at either a hearing or ‘paper determination’.

At a hearing, usually three LVT members listen to the evidence from both sides and ask questions. You can ask questions and represent yourself or get someone else to.

If both sides agree, a hearing won’t take place and the LVT’s decision is made at a ‘paper determination’. This is where both sides send their evidence in writing.

Step seven: the LVT will send its decision in writing, usually within six weeks of step six.

If you do not agree with the decision

If you do not agree with the LVT’s decision, you might be able to appeal.

You need to ask the LVT for permission to appeal within 21 days of their decision. If the LVT doesn’t give you permission, you can ask the Lands Chamber for permission to appeal. Usually, you must do this within 14 days of the LVT refusing their permission.

If you have a complaint about how your case was handled, you can complain to the RPTS. For details on how to complain, see the link below

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