“Let he who will be deceived, be deceived“ maxim of Roman Law. Is the UK leaseholder sector needlessly complex? Why and to whose benefit? The legislation surrounding leasehold flats is overly complicated. Let’s start by examining the kernel of the leasehold nut: the lease. The lease is a challenging read. The legalese seems designed to be confusing. Leases are written in English but the grammar is so hard to unpick it may as well be in an unknown language.
To make the point here’s a couple of examples from two separate leases:
“To do all such works as under any legislation are directed or required to be done on or in respect of the Property (whether by landlord tenant or occupier) not to do or omit to be done any act matter or thing in respect of the Property which shall contravene any such legislation and to keep the Corporation and the Management Company indemnified against all claims demands and liabilities in respect thereof.”
“The Lessee paying the rent hereby reserved and performing and observing the covenants on his part herein contained shall peaceably hold and enjoy the premises for the term hereby created without any interruption by the Lessor or any person lawfully claiming under or in trust for it.”
Notice how the authors of leases don’t do full stops. It’s clear the lease – the legally binding contract between landlord and tenant - is hard to read and understand. Leases, by design, are unwelcoming. They cry out STAY AWAY, and emphasise it with consistent application of a un-customer friendly font (Courier New 12).
From the moment you start reading, your patience starts to thin, and you are tempted to call in a professional to decipher it. The great irony is that this very blogger has been encouraging leaseholders to check the lease to test whether the services they receive are appropriate and reasonable. I still do – but if only it were easier!
Leases, Legalese, And The Land Registry
During 2005 the use of ‘prescribed clauses’ in leases was introduced. A front sheet was added to all new leases in a prescribed format. The idea was intended to make the lease registration process easier, faster, and more accurate for the benefit of…the Land Registry. An action which really underlines the argument that leases are hard to fathom, even for those working with leases all day, every day, and demonstrates how organisations are keen to uniform the lease wherever possible.
But Why Is The Lease So Complicated?
Could this be about class? Possibly. The land owning bourgeoisie protect their position and status through a language only decipherable by professionals who can only be appointed by those with power and/or cash. The net result is that for the lay person wanting to do battle over the terms of a lease the odds are stacked against them.
We are reminded of the same complex legalese in statute – whereby our political classes bandy together to collate near impenetrable doctrine in order to cement their high position. They set the complicated rules, the rest of us just accept and follow. But change is afoot.
The Growing Middle Class Is Bringing Change
Over the last four decades the UK has witnessed “a burgeoning middle class” bringing with it a revised consumer culture. Bigger net disposable incomes, higher standards of living, and better education, has seen this ballooning group want (and expect) more from suppliers and service providers.
Look at the high street. Many of the traditional professional classes are changing. Accountants no longer have a brass plate and a dusty gilded window above the shop (entry by the discreet side door please). They now have a well lit shop frontage with floor to ceiling windows.
It’s the same with solicitors. Look at how Tesco’s Law is re-inventing the legal system. You may well have spotted a branch of Quality Solicitors at a high street near you, or seen the TV ads during Coronation Street. There’s a Quality Solicitors in Lewisham Shopping Mall for heaven’s sake. The dentist now advertises to you. You don’t have to look him up in the Yellow Pages he is right there next to the estate agents, or inviting you in from your TV.
The professional classes: doctors, solicitors, accountants, and so on, encouraged by consumers, and chivvied on by the internet, are simplifying their message. Consumers want ‘accessible’. And they want all professions to be accessible. And the growing middle class won’t stand for ‘high minded’ any more.
This desire – mediated by consumers through the greatest leveller of all time, the internet – to enjoy services which were previously seen as high status, out of reach, and only for a certain class, is being met. Week in, week out, those businesses that don’t meet the needs of their customers, (that just don’t get it) fade away.
Why Can’t The Lease Be Written In Plain English?
So, why can’t the lease be written in lay terms? In a language that is clear to all. Surely the greater the general understanding of the lease the greater would be parties’ complicity with it. Imagine the head teacher writing the school rules in an unknown foreign language and then giving the kids a hard time when they don’t comply. Everything the leasehold sector does – everything – should be aimed at enhancing the outcome for customers, not tangling them in legalese.
Now Is The Time To Make A Change
Am I suggesting the high ranking professionals in the leaseholder sector are one of the last bastions of resistance to the march of consumerism? No. But I’m certainly raising the question.
There are significant initiatives aimed at making the leasehold sector more consumer focused – and aimed at ridding us of the cowboys: ARMA-Q being a great example. If we are to make this positive step change to improve the sector’s image should we not also make efforts to simplify our language?
In the meantime this property manager will continue to work hard for leaseholders and landlords and do all he can to properly and comprehensively interpret the covenants, restrictions and obligations found in residential leases. But how much easier it would be if the language were simpler and clearer.
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