Landlord Evidence Successfully Challenged
We acted for a London Borough Council owed a total of £18,550.72 in unpaid business rates for the period 2020/21 in respect of three properties located in a well known entertainment district of the city, containing bars and restaurants.
Demands were issued to two companies that owned the properties concerned. The companies had, via their property agent, provided evidence to the Council in support of their allegation that they were not the liable parties, claiming that three separate companies had been in occupation of the properties during the relevant periods. The evidence provided included purported leases, a tenancy at will, bank statements, invoices, utility bills, correspondence regarding the alleged occupation of the properties, and other evidence of trading at the properties. The Council deemed the evidence provided unsatisfactory and accordingly issued three summonses against the owners of the properties in the Magistrates’ Court.
The summonses were consolidated and the owners (“the Respondents”) defended the complaint on the basis that they were not the parties in rateable occupation of the properties during the relevant periods.
Statements were provided by four witnesses on behalf of the Respondents. Those witnesses included the companies’ property agent and three individuals connected with the companies who were alleged to have been in occupation of the properties during the relevant periods. Tellingly no evidence was adduced on behalf of the officers of the Respondents as to their divesting of their legal interests in the properties concerned or performance of the alleged leases.
The trial took place on a split basis over three days during a period of three months. A substantial proportion of the trial was spent on cross-examination of the Respondents’ witnesses. At the conclusion of the trial the District Judge directed that written submissions be filed and served prior to him giving his judgment. The Council was represented at trial by Greenhalgh Kerr’s employed counsel, Alex Worthington.
A written judgment was provided by the District Judge in January 2023. In his judgment he stated that the Respondents’ evidence “was wholly unsatisfactory” and “contradictory” and stated that he agreed with Mr. Worthington’s “pithy phrase” in his written submissions that the Respondents’ evidence was a “skeletal mess” and that when taken in conjunction with the absence of evidence from officers of the Respondents he was satisfied that the properties were unoccupied during the relevant periods and that the Respondents were the owners of the properties during the relevant periods.
He directed that liability orders be issued against the Respondents for the entirety of the sums sought plus costs.
The Council commented that “this case demonstrates the benefit of using outside expertise to handle tricky cases. There is no doubt our colleagues were being bombarded with evidence via the landlord’s agent, and without Greenhalgh Kerr’s help we may not have been brave enough to take it on in court.”