From 1 July the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal becomes the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). The Property Chamber gathers together a number of tribunals including the Residential Property Tribunal, Rent Assessment Committee and Adjudicator to Her Majesty’s Land Registry.
As well as a change of name, the Property Chamber comes with a brand new set of rules. One of the perceived problems with the old Leasehold Valuation Tribunal was that the directions and timetable were not enforced by the Tribunal. This is because the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal had few sanctions available to it if a party decided to flout the rules. Although the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal tried to manage cases by holding pre-trial reviews and giving detailed directions for the conduct of cases, it was still sometimes the case that parties ignored those directions and got away with it.
The new Property Chamber has a much more comprehensive and detailed set of rules. It also gives the Property Chamber the power to impose sanctions if a party fails to comply with procedural directions. This can include barring or restricting a party from taking further part in proceedings if they fail to comply. There are also enhanced provisions allowing one party to apply to strike out another party’s case if it is without merit.
The other eye-catching part of the new rules relate to the costs of proceedings. In the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal, costs could only be awarded against a party in extreme circumstances, and even then only up to a maximum of £500. The new Property Chamber rules remove the £500 cap, and expand the circumstances in which a party can be awarded costs. However, I should stress that the default position remains that no award of costs will be made against another party.
What will it all mean? Time will tell how tough the Property Chamber will be against parties who don’t stick to directions and timetables. I expect there will still be a degree of indulgence for parties acting in person. However, it does open up a world of new possibilities to well-represented parties to dispose of incoherent and unclear applications at an early stage. The new rules also give more scope to a party to take tactical advantage of failures by the other party to stick to the timetable given.