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Service Charge - Small Claims Court - Advice Needed


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Hello all,

 

Need some advice regarding defending against a small claims court action. It's regarding a debt in the service charge for the leasehold of my house.

 

I purchased the property in June 2006. I moved in the following October. I began paying the service charge for the property (~£120/month) in October and cleared all debts incurred from the purchase date. I have since been paying the full amount, every month consistently to this very day.

 

The debt was incurred as follows - towards the end of October I received a letter from the lease holding company, informing me that the end of year/final adjustments had been made on the service charge for the year and that I owed an additional £400. I promptly phoned them about this charge and they informed me that I should get in contact with my Solicitor and attempt to get the monies from the previous owner of the property. The phone operator also said the amount was frozen and to ignore it from the bill - they gave me no time frame in which to ensure the payment was made. (I regretfully didn't make a record of this conversation and who I spoke to at the time as I didn't conceive I'd meet them in court about it :()

 

I did as my leaseholders instructed, contacted my solicitor regarding the matter, forwarded him the bill in question with the £386.40 on it... he said he would get back to me... and he didn't... and I also made the mistake of not promptly following it up with him - I didn't believe the matter was so urgent (the understanding I got from speaking with a representative (phone operator) of the leaseholder when I contacted them in October).

 

Anyway, I continued to get random bills from them with this additional charge which I had been told to ignore. When I received these bills, I agree I should have gotten in touch with my Solicitor... but never got around to it :(

 

A few days ago I received a Claims Form informing me that this had gone to court :o (that was my actual expression on opening the letter) - I had no idea that it had been escalated to this level - I didn't receive any communication informing me that they were taking me to court, the bills they sent me weren't Red Letter Bills, nor did they even state on the bills they were going to seek legal action if I didn't pay the additional amount (I continued to religiously pay my standard monthly charge of ~£120.00) - I had absolutely no clue... as far as I knew, that additional amount had been frozen.

 

Anyway, alarm bells began ringing, I've been trying to get in contact with the Solicitor for the past few days with no avail. I have also *fully* paid off the additional charges - however their court claim includes Solicitor Fees, Court Fees and interest ... which totals up quite a bit (£154.40) - I don't want to be liable for this and don't believe I should be - they didn't inform me at any point that they were going to court... if they had, I would have immediately paid the amount (as I have done so now) and hunted down my solicitor at the same time. And ultimately, my understanding was that the £386.40 was frozen - they did not communicate anything to me since that conversation in October, either my phone or letter, to lead me to believe otherwise.

 

What I wanted to know was:

  • If I have any grounds to avoid the solicitor fees/court fees/interest totalling £154.40
  • Also, if I did continue to dispute the claim of the £154.40.. and a ruling is made against me, would I get a CCJ against me? I don't understand CCJ's fully but from my understanding, if I made an immediate payment I shouldn't do - would appreciate it if someone with knowledge in this area could confirm/correct me on this.

The CCJ is the most worrying thing for me personally - I've managed to stay completely loan/credit free (with the exception of my Student Loan)... and then this silly thing creeps up on me out of the blue and can potentially slap me with a CCJ :(

 

Would appreciate it greatly if anyone can give me advice on this situation. Thank you.

 

- John Doe

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Guest ian cognito

Most people are terrified of going to court and of the consequences but you had two options, the first would be to defend the action and based on the info in your thread it sounds like you may not even be liable as you mention claiming back from the previous tenant?, if it is their responsibility, they should not even be hassling you for the money, a little more detail may help here? The second option is, even if you are liable for the debt and you pay up immediately (I think you have 1 month to pay) you wouldn't have a CCJ against you.

 

I also think someone has to notify you of their intention to commence court action, I'm sure someone will confirm this, so if you have all the letters they sent plus the backing of your solicitor that you asked him to look into the matter, at the very worse you will have to pay the costs and no CCJ, whatever you do, don't just ignore it, prepare yourself, give gour solicitor a good shaking, and turn up to the court hearing and let them sort it out.

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...based on the info in your thread it sounds like you may not even be liable as you mention claiming back from the previous tenant?, if it is their responsibility, they should not even be hassling you for the money, a little more detail may help here?

 

Sorry about the confusion around that. My lease does have a clause saying all arrears attached to the lease at the point of transfer, get carried over... it's also detailed in the claim made against me:

 

Statement of Claim (against me) - Clause 3

The defendant having purchased the lease on date X became liable to comply with the covenants and conditions contained therein. At the date of assignment, the balance of the outstanding service charges stood at £xxx. These arrears remained a liability attached to the property upon transfer.

I have no problems going to court about it (as long as it's not in the next 8 weeks.. I have exams :( .. will detail that in my defence - hope they take that into consideration)... it's just the CCJ that worries me :(

 

I've cleared the debt amount detailed by the claim - the only money owed now is the fees associated with this item going to court (court/solicitor/interest costs).

 

also think someone has to notify you of their intention to commence court action

 

That's exactly what I thought... I was quite dumbfound when I received the claim form :eek:

 

- John Doe

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You won't get a ccj as long as you pay anything the court finds you owe within 7 or 14 days (can't remember exactly) of judgement. As the claimant hasn't informed you of intention to pursue the matter through the courts you stand a good chance of avoiding the fees.

 

Put in your defence that you were advised by the agency to pursue the previous owner and at no point had they ever mentioneed legal action in any form.

 

You might be best admitting to the amount but stating that you won't pay the court costs, interest or other legal costs.

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Thanks for the advice blacksheep1929 :)

 

You might be best admitting to the amount but stating that you won't pay the court costs, interest or other legal costs.

 

Yup, that's what I'm intending to do - have paid off the outstanding amounts. And my defence details the fact that I shouldn't be liable for the legal fees as I was not informed of the impending doom... as it were.

-----------------------------------------------------

One other problem I've just realised is the fact that I have to reply to the courts in 14 days... the Issue Date as stamped on the Claim Form is 12 March 2007. The envelope it came in is franked 16 March 2007. I actually received the mail on the 20th March 2007.

 

Do I get 14 days from the issue date (so I should have returned it 3 days ago) ... or 14 days from the received date (so need to return it by 3rd April 2007)? Surely can't be expected to respond to it before I receive it - Is there any leniency in that ?

 

- John Doe

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you can get any judgement 'set asside' if you can show that it wasn't reasonable for you to respond to the claim in time. What would have happened if (seeing as you hadn't been warned about the court case) you were on holiday for a fortnight when this arrived? Best bet is to get it in the post first thing monday - might be worth the extra for special delivery.

 

Make sure you keep the proof of when the mail was franked to back up your case.

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you can get any judgement 'set asside' if you can show that it wasn't reasonable for you to respond to the claim in time. What would have happened if (seeing as you hadn't been warned about the court case) you were on holiday for a fortnight when this arrived? Best bet is to get it in the post first thing monday - might be worth the extra for special delivery.

 

Ok, I shall write a letter in addition to the defence letter, directed to the court, detailing the the delay in my response.

 

 

Make sure you keep the proof of when the mail was franked to back up your case

 

It has been photocopied and labelled Appendix E :)

 

Thanks once again.

 

- John Doe

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