What is the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber)?
Tracing its roots back to 2013, the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) is an integral component of the UK's judicial system. This tribunal specialises in addressing disputes over property and land, acting as an accessible and affordable arena for conflict resolution.
The First-tier Tribunal has jurisdiction throughout England and is part of the broader tribunal system which encompasses the Upper Tribunal and other specialist tribunals. Each branch of the tribunal system handles specific areas of law.
Operating under the mantra of fairness, the First-tier Tribunal strives to provide an equitable hearing for all involved parties. The presiding judge and members bring their property expertise to bear on each case, ensuring an informed decision-making process.
What types of matters does it decide?
The First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) is the first port of call for a variety of residential property disputes. It addresses a broad spectrum of issues including service charge disputes, leasehold enfranchisement, right to manage and manage-audit, as well as disputed cases of rent increases for protected tenants and right of first refusal on the sale of the freehold.
Moreover, the Tribunal is also involved in determining pitch fees for mobile homes, disputes concerning improvement charges by park owners, and rent repayment orders. It acts as a mediator in disagreements between landlords and tenants, homeowners and management companies, providing a cost-effective and streamlined alternative to court proceedings.
The Tribunal serves as an adjudicator for a range of issues concerning land registration. With jurisdiction in rectification and alteration of the register, determining the exact line of a boundary, and disputes concerning registration of town or village greens, the First-tier Tribunal ensures the accuracy and integrity of land records.
Moreover, it decides on applications for indemnity arising from registration matters and adjudicates on disputes involving the notification of a pending land registration application.
Agricultural land and drainage matters
The First-tier Tribunal is not limited to residential property and land registration disputes, but it also extends its reach to agricultural land and drainage issues. It deals with cases relating to drainage and irrigation, as well as disputes over land valuation for agricultural holdings.
Furthermore, the Tribunal settles disagreements over the payment of compensation for agricultural tenants and landowners due to various issues such as land drainage, making it a critical player in the agricultural sector.
What is the process for new applications?
In the realm of property disputes, a residential property case usually commences with a party completing a form known as an 'application for proceedings'. The tribunal procedure is one that aims to be just, fair, and efficient in the resolution of disputes. When you've got a dispute about a leasehold property matter, this is the document you need to fill in and return to the Property Tribunal.
Preparing your application
The first steps towards getting your day at the tribunal involve preparing a concise, clear, and complete application. A typical application form will ask for key information, including the names and addresses of all parties involved, details of the property in question, and a summary of the issues you wish the tribunal to determine.
Writing down the points of contention, along with any evidence to support your case, will assist the tribunal in understanding your stance. While you may consider engaging the services of a legal professional, remember, your own comprehensive understanding of the matter often makes you the best advocate for your case.
After you submit your application
After submitting the form, the tribunal service will notify the other party, referred to as the 'respondent', of the current application. They're given a chance to respond in writing, presenting their own perspective on the dispute.
Upon receipt of both parties' information, the tribunal schedules a hearing date to present their case in a public forum.
For the hearing, parties can represent themselves or engage a legal professional to make their case. At this juncture, a panel of experts listens to both sides, reviews the evidence, and makes a determination based on facts and laws.
Having your case outlined neatly, with supporting documents ready, can help ensure that the panel fully appreciates your position.
What does it cost to apply?
Discussing the financial implications of applying to the First-tier Tribunal is key to understanding the whole picture. The cost of applying is generally twofold: the application fee and the hearing fee.
The application fee is £100. This ensures that your case is reviewed and considered by the tribunal.
Should your case proceed to a hearing, you will be asked to pay a hearing fee. Currently set at £200, this fee covers the tribunal's costs in facilitating the hearing. Both the application and hearing fees are a small investment in your pursuit of justice.
You can ask for help with fees, using the EX160 form.
Though the tribunal's fees are modest, additional costs can accrue depending on the complexity of the case and the degree of professional assistance sought. Solicitors and barristers will charge for their services, which can significantly add to the expense.
However, employing a legal professional may save you time and provide the reassurance of having someone experienced in property law fighting your corner. Even so, one must also consider the potential risk of incurring the other side's costs if the tribunal found your conduct during the proceedings to have been unreasonable.
How are hearings conducted?
Tribunal hearings bear a resemblance to a traditional court, but with a few key differences that distinguish them. Hearings are less formal, providing a more accessible and less intimidating environment.
The panel is central to proceedings. It includes a legally qualified chairperson and two other members who have professional expertise in property matters. Parties involved in the dispute present their case to this panel.
The tribunal encourages parties to participate, emphasising direct communication over legal representation.
During the hearing, each party has the opportunity to present their case and respond to the other side's argument. Parties can call witnesses, subject to the tribunal's approval. Evidence, such as documents or photographs, can be presented to support the case.
The panel ensures the hearing proceeds smoothly, allowing those involved to present their case without interruption.
Can I recover costs in the First Tier Tribunal?
The recovery of costs is a contentious issue in the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). The Tribunal's usual approach is that each party should bear their own costs. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule.
The general rule in First Tier Tribunal proceedings is that each party covers their own costs. This rule fosters a sense of fairness and accessibility, allowing parties to bring a case without the fear of potentially high costs if they lose.
Wasted costs refers to costs incurred as a result of improper, unreasonable, or negligent conduct. The tribunal can order a party, or their representative, to pay these costs if they acted improperly or unreasonably.
In some instances, a party’s conduct can be deemed as unreasonable by the tribunal, which may result in a cost order. This could include refusing a reasonable offer to settle the dispute or causing unnecessary delay.
In the case of Leibel v Baird, the First Tier Tribunal ordered Mr. Leibel to pay the costs as a result of his unreasonable conduct. The tribunal found that Mr. Leibel had acted unreasonably by persistently failing to comply with the Tribunal’s directions, resulting in wasted costs and undue delay.
In the case of Willow Court Management Company v Alexander, the Upper Tribunal concluded that the behaviour of the company had been unreasonable. It had failed to provide a reasonable explanation for its conduct in relation to service charges, leading to the conclusion that it had acted unreasonably.
In cases where a written contract exists between the parties, that contract may dictate who pays the costs. This scenario is more common in commercial disputes, where contracts often contain a "loser pays" clause.
The legislative framework underpinning the costs in the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) is detailed in Rule 13 of the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Property Chamber) Rules 2013. It provides the circumstances under which the tribunal can award costs and the types of costs that can be recovered.