When I got a call from a potential new professional negligence client the other day, the saying, Jack of all trades, master of none’ immediately sprang to mind. It amazes me when professionals (especially solicitors, who 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 causes the unfortunate client unnecessary stress and anxiety.
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. The barns were finished earlier this year and 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 on 28th April 2012. He paid over the deposit and first month’s rent and Sam was happy. Two months later though, he wasn’t quite so pleased. The tenant had issued proceedings against him because Sam had failed to comply with the Localism Act 2011 which had come into force at the beginning of April 2012. That statute requires all landlords to register any 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 the 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 with him about 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 was vehement though: he did not wish to sue his solicitor – 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 and gentlemanly. However, that is not always the case and sometimes, it is better to seek proper legal advice to protect yourself.
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