In this edition of her popular blog, solicitors negligence specialist Emma Slade looks at what can happen when a solicitor is tempted to dabble in areas outside his field of expertise
When I got a call from a potential new solicitor negligence client the other day, the saying, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ immediately sprang to mind. It amazes me when professional people (especially solicitors, who really ought to know better), step outside their area of expertise and dabble. Invariably, they get it wrong. Sure, it creates work for me, but it can make life hell for their unfortunate client.
The caller – I will call him Sam – was an elderly farmer who had decided to put some old stone barns to good use. He had obtained planning permission and got them converted for use as rented accommodation. When the barns were finished he advertised privately for a new tenant. Once a tenant had been found, Sam called up his family lawyer. He had used this guy for years. When I looked him up on the Law Society website, I found that he was a sole practitioner specialising in Wills and Conveyancing. He had also been qualified since the mid-1970s and did not appear to have a website or email address.
Sam asked the solicitor to set up a tenancy agreement. The solicitor said that he did not usually deal in Landlord & Tenant law but advised him that the best type of tenancy agreement was an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. He said that at the end of six months and after service of the requisite notice, Sam could easily get the property back if the tenant did not move out. Sam agreed and the solicitor prepared the tenancy agreement.
The new tenant moved in. He paid a deposit and the first month’s rent and Sam was happy. Two months later though, he wasn’t quite so pleased. The tenant had issued court proceedings against him because Sam had failed to register the deposit with a Tenancy Deposit Scheme within 30 days of the commencement of the tenancy and to provide the tenant with some prescribed information. Failure to do so means that the Courts may order the landlord to repay the deposit to the tenant as well as a penalty of between one to three times the value of the deposit: Even if the tenant is in rent arrears.
Poor Sam! His solicitor had not been aware of this change in this aspect of Landlord and Tenant law so had not forewarned him. I discussed with Sam what to do and gave him some advice on how to deal with the proceedings his tenant had issued. I also discussed bringing a possible professional negligence claim against the solicitor: he had clearly been negligent and should have to recompense Sam for any penalty and legal costs he has to pay. Sam did not wish to sue his solicitor though – they had been through too much together in the past, but he said he would have a quiet word with him.
I don’t know how this one ended. Sam seemed very much to belong to the school of trying to sort problems out without involving the Courts – an admirable concept – and with the relationship he had with his old solicitor, I hope that Sam will be dealt with properly.
However, the case underlines how important it is for solicitors to stick to their own areas of expertise and not be tempted to dabble.
If you have been given negligent Landlord and Tenant advice or have let down by a solicitor in relation to another area of law, then find out where you stand by calling 0808 139 1595 or email us at [email protected]