legal

Dilapidations and demised premises: Where’s the rest of it?

Ben Sercombe makes the case for all parties to better document the contents of Demised Premises in their leases, to help reduce the expense, time and frustration which can result from dilapidations negotiations.

The question of Demised Premises can be sticking point between landlords and tenants at lease end.

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The decision in the case of Capitol Park Leeds PLC v Global Radio Services has generated interest as one of few recent cases in the world of dilapidations.

For those who missed it, the decision involved a lease break and the usual understanding of Vacant Possession was somewhat side-stepped. The provision of Vacant Possession allows the landlord to use the building without being impeded by the previous tenant’s occupants, chattels (and possibly tenant’s fixtures). However, in this case the tenant stripped out too much, so the Demised Premises was not all physically returned to the landlord. Unfortunately for the tenant, their lease break was therefore found to be invalid.

This begs the question: why not routinely document the constituent parts of the demise at the outset of a lease?

This is a formality for Assured Shorthold Tenancies, and many of us recall from early renting days – often as students – the ominous checking of the inventory by the landlord and pursuit of our rental deposit. In commercial leases there is usually a property definition, prepared by the solicitors. However, this is often generic and refers to ‘land and buildings’ or, in the case of internal repairing leases, sufficient detail to define the internal extents of the demise. It will be full of legal phrases such as ‘walls severed medially’.

It is almost unheard of for a solicitor to inspect the property for this purpose, let alone to find a detailed description, inventory, or photos within a lease for the purpose of identifying the elements in a building. A photographic schedule of condition can pick up on this to a degree, but it is prepared specifically to limit repairing liability by recording condition.

The very nature of dilapidations is a negotiation, and landlords and tenants who have been through the dilapidations process will know that it can be expensive, time consuming, and frustrating. This is particularly true when parties cannot agree on the definition of the Demised Premises or when they demand evidence from lease commencement.

Let us take carpets as an example. Were they demised? Do they belong to landlord or tenant? Are they chattels or fixtures? Who installed them? Who paid for them?

Providing evidence to answer these questions is difficult, particularly at the end of a 10-year lease term. This will inevitably lead to dispute. The significant work carried out by the RICS on their Dilapidations Guidance Note, and the creation of the Dilapidations Pre-Action Protocol have made great progress to reduce expensive litigation and court cases, as shown by the scarcity of recent dilapidations case law.

It makes sense, in further pursuit of concord at lease end, to fully document at lease commencement the elements that comprise the Demised Premises.

How should you document the Demised Premises?

Call a Dilapidations surveyor! They have the perfect combination of technical building knowledge and an understanding of the subtleties of dilapidations.

When should you compile a Demised Premises document?

For a new build:  A detailed description can be prepared by the landlord when construction is complete, ready to attach to a future lease.

For an occupied premises:  Once the existing tenant vacates, and after any dilapidations works are carried out (by either party), but prior to the new tenant’s occupation/fit-out works. A quick turn-around on the document may be required, but inspection timing is most critical.

Clarify funding responsibilities

The other issue would be where the landlord is funding repairs or alterations that the tenant carries out. The tenant may well do these concurrently with their fit-out making the distinction between landlord and tenant works complex. In a usual lease these works would be separately documented, so as long as this was clear, the same ends are achieved. (i.e. The lease would have a document attached showing who did and paid for what works).

If you have further questions on dilapidations for commercial property, including how you can get started with documenting your Demised Premises, contact us to find out more.

Manchester’s Beetham Tower in disrepair: Lessons from a “Draconian” remedy

Beetham Tower, Manchester. Source: Craig Sunter.

A new disrepair case has been reported, relating to Manchester’s tallest building: the iconic Beetham Tower in Manchester (you know it; that new glass one with the top half larger than the bottom half). Here we explore the ramifications and lessons to learn from an unusual case.

In Blue Manchester Limited v North West Ground Rents Ltd [2019] EWHC 142 (TCC), the judge heard about three issues including potential disrepair to the cladding.

The Landlord had obligations to the hotel-operator Tenant to keep the retained parts of the building (including the cladding) in repair.  Problems had been found with parts of the cladding installation and, prior to the hearing, a temporary solution had been implemented.  More particularly, the bond provided by the structural sealant of the insulated ‘shadow box units’ was failing in some cases.  The temporary remedy was to screw-stitch pressure plates to the frame profiles, to hold the panels securely in position.

The question for the judge to consider was whether, at the time of the hearing, the cladding was in disrepair.  He found that it was in disrepair.  In so doing, he relied to a very large extent on the 5-stage analysis of disrepair published within Dowding and Reynold’s dilapidations text book.  He also took the aesthetics of the building into account.

To the observer, informed only by the facts as reported in the judgement, it seems relatively clear-cut that the cladding would be found to be in disrepair.

For the defendant landlord though, this appears to have been a problematic case for three particular reasons:

  1. They are a ground rent company and may have had little expectation of having to get involved with works of this scale, the recovery of the cost of which might be restricted by the terms of leases with the various tenants.
  2. Matters were also complicated somewhat by the demise of Carillion and by both parties holding warranties against the cladding sub-contractor.
  3. The claimant tenant was (unusually) asking the judge to award the remedy of ‘specific performance’ as well as damages.

It is the granting of an order for specific performance which perhaps elevates this case to the unusual.

That remedy was awarded despite the judge describing it as ‘draconian’ and also despite the tenant having an alternative contractual remedy akin to a Jervis v Harris process.

It is more normal for specific performance not to be granted in England and Wales, because the terms of any order can be difficult to draft, such that it would be difficult for the party obliged to comply with the order to know whether it was doing so in an appropriate manner.  In this case the judge allowed what he considered to be a reasonably generous time frame (of 18 months) for the landlord to comply, and also allowed the landlord to apply to the court for further guidance under certain circumstances.

The Tenant was also awarded damages for any continuing loss it may suffer as a consequence of the landlord’s various breaches.

It is not known whether leave to appeal will be requested or granted, or any appeal made or won.

Lessons to learn:

  1. Parties to a lease (or indeed any contract) should understand the potential implications of the obligations they are signing up to. It sounds as though the landlord might have difficulty recovering all of the cost of the works through the service charge, and this in circumstances where their 999 year interest will have meant that any opportunity to claim against the development team would expire (relatively) quickly, because the warranties would not be for an equivalent 999 years.
  2. Don’t assume that specific performance will not be granted. It just might; going to court is an uncertain business.
  3. Inspect cladding installations regularly and frequently, even if they are ‘new’.

Japanese knotweed: a new statutory concern for dilapidations

Japanese knotweed is a concern to our clients when dealing with dilapidations and investing in property: it’s important that its presence is identified due to the potential damage it can cause from rhizomes (roots) penetrating masonry, foundations and paving and the potentially high cost of remedial works.

On top of the well known financial imperative, there is a further legal aspect which has recently come to light.

Japanese Knotweed – By MdE (page at dewiki | page at commons) – own photo, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3506559

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990 remain the overarching legislation that control the growth and correct disposal of Japanese Knotweed in the UK; with the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Northern Ireland) Act 2011 and the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2012 applicable to the respective regions, alongside the relevant disposal regulations.

However, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduces a further facet to what can become a problematic issue. A recent prosecution case by Bristol County Council demonstrates that local authorities are using the legislation available to them, taking action against those who fail to control invasive plants on their land. Under the Act, local authorities can serve a Community Protection Notice (CPN) on individuals or bodies acting in a way that has a detrimental effect on quality of life of those in the local area. Bristol County Council subsequently fined MB Estates Ltd £18,000 for failing to control the weed’s growth.

So landlords, tenants and professional advisers beware. It is important for property professionals and clients to be aware of the risks associated with Japanese Knotweed and that lease obligations relating to its presence and recovery of costs are carefully considered. Leases tend not to cover invasive species very well and linking its presence, and an obligation to remove, to a breach of covenant can be difficult.

For further information and advice specific to your property, please get in touch with Jay Ridings, Associate at TFT.