By Tim Selley, Partner at Crosse + Crosse and Ibraheem Dulmeer, Legal Adviser at LEASE
Going to court is often a very stressful and daunting experience. Park home owners typically seek a peaceful lifestyle, so litigation is probably the last thing one wants. This article will attempt to address some of the concerns with Tribunal action.
What is the Tribunal?
The First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) or the Residential Property Tribunal in Wales, hear almost all park/mobile home proceedings (“Tribunal”). The County Court still deals with cases where the issue is over possession (termination of home owner agreements).
How is an application made?
The Tribunal can now determine most applications in relation to park home matters. All of the application forms can be found on the Park Homes Advice website provided by LEASE. The website, forms contains a clear list of all the forms necessary to make an application; these are entitled Form PH1 to Form PH19.
For the jurisdiction of Wales, applications will be made to the RPT. The forms are available here:
mobile homes, including gypsy and traveller sites
It is important that you read the notes contained in these forms before you complete and submit an application. The notes are jargon free and will outline what needs to be sent with the completed application form to the appropriate regional Tribunal office. Office addresses can be found on the back page of the forms
Who are the Tribunal members?
There are two types of tribunal member: (1) the chair person, who will usually be a lawyer or surveyor, is normally responsible for the written reasons for the decision; and, (2) ‘wing members’ who may be lawyers, surveyors, other professionals or lay people. When a Tribunal considers a case, it will usually comprise of 2 or 3 members including a chair person.
What type of applications can the Tribunal hear?
Applications made in the Tribunal can include: disputing utility charges, the content of and enforcement of site rules, a site owner’s notice of a proposed new pitch fee, administration charges, claims by site owners to reject a planned sale (a “Refusal Order”) and refusal of permission for improvement of a park home. In addition to claims from site and home owners, the Tribunal can also consider certain claims by residents associations, for instance, for “recognition” by the site owner.
Is there a fee payable?
There is a fee of £100 payable for an application to the Tribunal, and, if required, an additional hearing fee of £200. Unless you qualify for a fee waiver or reduction, this is known as the fee remission system, outlined in form “EX160A Court and Tribunal Fees – Do I have to pay them?”
For Wales, the Tribunal application fees range from £155 to £515. Please carefully look at the fee structure contained in the application form you are to use.
What happens after I send my application in?
When an application form is sent to a Tribunal, it is allocated to a case officer. These are the administrative staff who manage the case and deal with any correspondence on behalf of the Tribunal. The case officer can speak to the parties about the procedure that needs to be followed. For straightforward cases, the Tribunal can often deal with the matters considering the written evidence submitted by each party. However, either side has the right to request an oral hearing. Such hearings usually take place near to the site in question. If the case merits it (e.g. a case over the condition of a home or a pitch fee review) the Tribunal members will come first to the site for an inspection. This can often be helpful.
The Tribunal judge will make “directions” for dealing with the case. Make a careful note of these and make sure you do what you are required to do by the dates given. Your case can be harmed if you do not do this. Keep copies of whatever you send off to the Tribunal or site owner.
Just because a claim is made does not necessarily mean it will have to go to a hearing. It is always open to the parties to try and settle by other means. No one can predict with certainty the result of any case, however strong (or weak!) it looks. So always think about what you might be prepared to offer by way of a sensible compromise.
What are the powers of a Tribunal?
It is important to appreciate that the decision of a Tribunal is binding upon the parties. The Tribunal has the power to award payments by way of compensation, damages or as otherwise directed. Bear in mind, as a general rule the Tribunal cannot order a party to pay another party’s costs but it can order one party to reimburse any fees paid by another.
With permission, a decision by the Tribunal may be appealed to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber), the judicial body above the Tribunal. The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) may revisit the issues considered by the Tribunal, if permission has been granted to do so. The Application for permission must be made within 28 days from the date when the written reasons for the decision were sent to the parties.
Tribunals have no enforcement powers but its orders are enforceable in the same way as County Court orders.
Can it be beneficial to use a solicitor?
There are a number of cases where park home owners or residents associations decide to instruct a Solicitor to act. You need to remember it is unlikely that you will recover your costs and as such you will have to pay them. If the sum at issue is small, this will often not be sensible. However if the matter is important to you then it may be worth doing. A minority of site owners can be very difficult and aggressive. On the same note, some park home owners can be unreasonable. However, site owners more often than not are represented by solicitors.
If you do instruct a Solicitor, make sure it is someone who is experienced in park home law. He or she is required at the outset to give you details of the likely costs. It may be the case even if you do not feel the cost of a Solicitor for the whole case is worth it, that it might be useful to have help at some stages, for instance on the content of your application to the Tribunal and so as hopefully to get the case going on the right basis. Both parties should still be treated fairly by the Tribunal but faced with this, sometimes being represented as well can be a good idea so as to make sure your case is put forward effectively.
If you are a park home owner, it would be prudent to check your park home insurance policy as you might have some cover for your legal costs.
The jurisdiction of the Tribunal seeks to make the process seamless and more user-friendly. The procedural rules are clearly drafted and the process has been simplified for park home owners and site owners alike.