Criminal cases – Expert Witness input
We have been involved in a number of criminal cases over the years, in some instances acting in liaison with defence lawyers to provide input on allegations made against defendant clients, to review extensive prosecution bundles and perhaps visit multiple addresses where allegedly criminal property related activity took place, and in other situations alongside the prosecution also to provide expert witness input to cases proceeding through the courts. These cases require an especially careful approach, given the prospect of custodial sentences, although as with all matters upon which we are instructed, the detail, thoroughness and accuracy of the work, alongside impartiality, are imperative.
Specialist Valuation Advice – Development land and Access to it.
Charles Stimpson acted jointly for parties who had fallen into dispute and court proceedings over a parcel of development land. Party A had secured consent for development of properties on the land, to be reached via an access route passing a cottage they owned. They later sold the development land to a buyer B, excluding the access approved within the planning consent, instead including a different access route over other land bundled in with the sale. The cottage was sold to a third party, so that access became unavailable. Buyer B developed the properties but was enforced upon by the local authority who held that the development was unlawful as the approved access, via the cottage, was not used, and the access that was being used was not allowed within the planning consent nor would they approve it. We provided a report dealing thoroughly with various issues primarily focussed around valuation of the land, in the various circumstances that were applicable. This is a further example of a research around and a very detailed review of a range of information that applied to the matter and the clients’ concerns.
Restrictive Covenants- Alleged Breach of Covenant – Diminution in Value
We acted jointly for parties involved in protracted litigation concerning various complaints of overlooking, loss of privacy and alleged breach of Covenant. At issue was whether a Restrictive Covenant that bound a house, built in the garden of another house, had the bite claimed. We had to inspect the properties, form an opinion about the issues complained of and apply principles such as ‘Wrotham Park Damages’ to value the allegations, and the concept of the ‘Hypothetical Bargain’ (how much might have been negotiated had matters been discussed at the outset). The court will generally award damages if that is an adequate remedy instead of an injunction forcing an owner to do something (such as alter the building or cease a use). Our comprehensive report valued the allegations and also considered a value for the discharge of the Restrictive Covenant, by applying the rules in s. 84 (1) (b) of the Law of Property Act 1925. Diminution in Value had also to be considered in the circumstance that the court found the Covenant had been breached. Instructions of this kind require a detailed application of the relevant provisions and principles.
Private Rights of Way
Private Rights of way are an area where a surveyor’s knowledge of the relevant legal background will enable best quality assistance. We acted for owners of properties in the home counties. A driveway passed through garden A to reach property B to the rear. Owner A re-routed the driveway with no authority and made it very difficult to use by introducing sharp corners and obstructions. Owner B sued. Combined costs exceeded £300,000. After more than two years the court Directed that owner B could enter onto owner A’s land with contractors. We acted to provide Expert Evidence for the court throughout and in 2019 Mr Stimpson was appointed by Court Order to supervise and despite heated exchanges and determined resistance from owner A, leading eventually to the threat of an Injunction with a Penal Notice which could lead to arrest and removal to custody of owner A, and the police being on site for almost four hours, the obstructions were removed over two days and the right of way eventually restored. Mr. Stimpson was on site throughout. Knowledge of the legal background to ‘Substantial Interference’ with a right of way is the issue combined with very thorough mapping and analysis of documents.
In a similar case, in 2016 court proceedings were issued after the ‘Servient’ owner of a track over which a ‘Dominant’ owner had a registered Right of Way had erected fixed bollards creating a ‘Substantial Interference’ and when challenged resisted removing them. The Dominant owner with rights over the track had offered to replace the bollards with a more convenient arrangement at his own cost, but despite protracted correspondence no real progress was made and court action was stayed for a mediation. We provided plans, drawings, advice and historical evidence to assist the Dominant landowner’s claim. The Servient landowner sought to avoid removing the bollards to restore the access, saying the Dominant owners had ‘Acquiesced’ to the bollards, but had not understood the legal tests correctly. Matters were eventually settled but cost the Servient landowner in the order of £40,000 instead of nothing for a similar solution which the Dominant landowner had offered to pay for two years previously.
The firm has advised on various similar Rights or Way matters and is experienced in this tricky area of property disputes.
Costs Arising From Unlawful Demolition And Boundaries
Mr Stimpson was appointed in 2016 as Joint Expert in a case in North London where adjoining owners of 1930s semi-detached houses had fallen into dispute after a new owner ‘A’ came to one of the houses and demolished a longstanding neighbour ‘B’s garden wall which owner A wrongly believed was slightly on his land. It had been there for many years and was built by owner B and was in place at the time owner A bought his house. Court proceedings were issued by owner B due to the long running intransigent conduct of owner A, who spread defamatory allegations about owner B and refused all efforts to encourage compliance with suitable procedures for trying to settle matters. We provided mapping and Expert Evidence to determine the ownership of the wall, and Mr Stimpson gave evidence at trial of the matter in Central London County Court in summer 2019. Owner A also made allegations against this firm which were found to be baseless. A claim for damage to the wall, legal fees and damages under the Protection from Harassment Act, resulted in owner A being ordered to pay over £30,000 to owner B, all resulting from hasty actions in taking down a wall that he did not own.
Building costs analysis and court evidence at short notice
In a claim issued in the High Court, involving building work in Belgravia, Central London, Mr Stimpson was appointed by the President of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors at very short notice in May 2016, to provide expert evidence. A mere three days after a site inspection Mr Stimpson provided an expert report and three days after that gave live evidence at the Royal Courts of Justice having valued and costed the works undertaken, resulting in judgment for the Claimant builder in accordance with those figures. This type of urgent and somewhat forensic evidence is typical expert assistance to the courts. The judge confirmed in open court the appropriateness of Mr. Stimpson’s approach to the costings analysis and assessment of quality of the work.
Diminution in value arising from sellers’ failure to disclose factual history
In a matter involving failure to disclose a neighbour dispute, by the sellers of a domestic house. We were required to give an opinion as to the ‘Diminution in Value’ of the house given the allegedly nightmare neighbours that were found to be living next to the house our client purchased. The matter involved assessing the price paid for the house and determining the amount by which the saleability and value of that house would have been diminished at the time of the purchase by the concealed facts. Material to those concealed facts included the police having been to the address no less than 33 times in the two years prior to our client’s purchase, drunken brawling in the street and fighting with police at the property. Our clients were then seeking to recover damages and costs from the house’s previous owners.
Solicitors’ negligence and resulting claim for damages in fact found to have no value
We acted for clients who planned to claim damages from their house purchase solicitor who admitted failing to tell them that adjacent grassy vacant land was covenanted/ reserved as access to a development of seventy houses. We were required to assess the potentially diminished value of the house. We found they secured large discounts at purchase, and the local authority had refused rescheduling the ‘educational’ land for development. There was also other access to the land, despite the reduced likelihood of imminent development. These and similar factors meant that although the solicitor had failed to correctly advise the owners, there was in fact no real chance of the undisclosed potential road ever being built, and a saving had already been made by the discounts achieved at purchase. These combining to mean there was actually no real loss in value and thus no claim against the negligent solicitor and considerable wasted legal costs accrued before we had been instructed to investigate.
Our evidence on Condensation/Damp/Mildew persuasive - Client not guilty of having premises detrimental to health
In a private criminal prosecution heard in London in January 2015, our client who rents out a ground floor flat in a 1940s purpose built property, was prosecuted alleging Premises in a Condition Detrimental to Health, causing severe condensation and mildew. The claim was based on alleged penetrating damp and defects in the premises. Charles Stimpson gave live evidence at trial, explaining the causes of the condensation and the heating and ventilating of the premises. The court found our evidence persuasive and our client was found not guilty.
Leasehold disrepair causing damage to a ground floor flat
Our client was an upper story leaseholder in a terraced house in West London. His rear garden access staircase suffered serious damp and decay as a result of poor maintenance of a bathroom in the separately owned ground floor flat which was tenanted. The ground floor owner had ignored notification and repair requests. Proceedings were brought with the assistance of the upper flat owner's legal insurance, Mr Stimpson gave evidence at Kingston County Court, preceded by an Expert Witness Report. The court found in our client's favour leading to payment of damages and recovery of costs for our client who was able to have the necessary repairs undertaken, as well as an Order requiring the repairs to the ground floor bathroom.
Builder - Main Contractor - and Client's Architect in dispute over quality of workmanship
We acted for a main contractor refurbishing a large central London hotel. A stage payment of around £750k was withheld by the client's architect alleging defective standards to an element of the work. We were instructed at short notice to assess the works and determine their compliance with the specification and reasonableness of achieving that given the age of the building and elements of the work in question. We were able to de-fuse the deadlock by providing an independent expert view of the works, enabling agreement to be reached, releasing the essential stage payment.
Party Wall Act works and helpful advice
We were appointed as Joint Surveyor in a Party Wall matter involving a pair of semi detached bungalows, the owners of one of which had obtained consent for a single storey rear extension. The Neighbouring 'Adjoining Owner' sought to prevent the works, believing that the Party Wall procedures provided an opportunity to veto and resist matters moving ahead - not uncommon. We were able to facilitate the works going ahead by carefully assisting the owners in understanding that what was to be done under the Party Wall Act would protect them, leading eventually to a completed project and defusing an unpleasant neighbour situation.
Property Valuation - Recovery of the Procceeds of Crime and Convicted Offender's Custody
Our client was a serving prisoner challenging the length of custody, based upon the value of land with which he was said to have been historically involved. We researched the land and Charles Stimpson gave evidence in Maidstone Crown Court. Another valuer gave valuation evidence for the Crown. In these situations a valuer's impartial duty simply means giving a reasoned properly researched opinion, one does not win or loose such cases as an impartial Expert Witness assisting the Court. The court preferred our evidence, and the custody period was adjusted accordingly.
Basement conversion litigation - defective works and failure to comply with Building Regulations
Basement conversions in older buildings are fraught with difficulty for contractors not appreciating the difficulties fully. We provided Single Joint Expert Evidence in a case involving defective basement conversion works, which had failed to properly damp proof the area, and where various defective works were evident on inspection. This is an area of Building work where cutting corners is usually a disaster. An Expert Witness report lead to trial of the matter in court, but in fact admission of liability by the contractor at the start of the trial. We were then instructed to calculate the apportionment of damages there and then, and during that afternoon the parties accepted the calculations we had provided, leading to settlement of the matter the same day, despite large costs having been accumulated prior to that, which were also recovered by the property owner.
In a similar but worse case a basement flat buyer was eventually forced into bankruptcy having bought a badly defective newly converted basement flat, We provided detailed expert evidence of a catalogue of serious defects, backed by structural engineering evidence, but being uninsured and committed to a large mortgage, our client was unable to pursue the developer and had to walk away from the unsalable property, which the mortgage lender eventually sold at auction. The requirement for thorough independent legal insurance is often overlooked by the buyers of Leasehold properties. 'No Win-No Fee' or 'Conditional Fee Arrangement' assistance was available to our client but the cost of buying insurance to guard against loosing a court action was prohibitive.
Option Agreements and what may eventually take place
Our clients' parents had twenty years earlier signed an option agreement with a neighbouring property owner. At the time they were paid a 'Premium' releasing capital to the elderly parents. The neighbouring option owners thus acquired the right to purchase the parents' house upon the second death at 'open market value', and notified to activate the option when that death eventually occurred. We provided detailed valuation evidence, as did another firm acting for the option owners. Unsurprisingly the two surveyor's opinions were some way apart. A third surveyor was appointed in accordance with the option terms, leading to an Expert Determination setting the value somewhere in the middle ground. The Beneficiaries were of course obliged to sell the property to the Option Owner for that sum, irrespective of whether any of them wanted keep it, or delay the sale, whatever the state of the market at that time.
Rights Of Access - Boundary Alignment - Alleged Encroachment
Our major trade and retail client owned a number of retail outlets throughout the South East. At one of the pemises, a neighbouring owner erected bollards, seeking to exclude our client from a turning area that had long established use by our client. We were able to find and research historic documentation, and with that applied to relevant land law we were able to provide the evidence our client needed in order to ensure their long established use which was essential for turning their lorries in a confined delivery yard, could be established.
In a similar case our client's neighbour alleged that a new garage building encroached by one metre onto his land, leading to demands for demolition. By thorough and detailed research and obtaining evidence from a series of previous owners, we were able to prove the claim was invalid and the allegation was withdrawn.
In a further similar case, our clients owned an Ex Local Authority house which they acquired under Right to Buy. There was a very long running dispute about ownership of an adjacent garage, which needed to be finally resolved. We were able to properly explore the history and facts for the first time and provide our clients with a fully reasoned resolution to their long running dilemma which enabled them to move on and set the matter aside at last.
A modern cul-de-sac with parking excluded on a central 'shaded area' had lead to litigation due to persistent obstruction of the 'shaded' turning area by one of the occupiers with work from home commercial vehicles and trade visitors. The houses were not built according to the original and only site plans. We used digital precise survey techniques combined with computer scanning and scaling of plans, to make the intended shaded area fit the site, enabling enforcement of the shaded area and related restrictive covenant.
Our client owned a valuable site suitable for twenty-two dwellings but was in dispute over a one metre wide 'Ransom Strip'. We made a GPS/ satellite based digital map of the area and scaled a scan of a one hundred year old site plan with specific consistent local features, to fit. This enabled us to accurately set out the known measurements of the site and prove that the ransom strip in fact belonged to our client.
Housing Disrepair - Leaseholders in Dispute with Freeholders
In a case involving 20 leasehold flats in London with Leaseholders in dispute with the Freeholder Housing Association, we acted for the landlord and Mr Stimpson gave evidence before the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal, resulting in further works being undertaken at the property and contributing to negotiations to settle the dispute, leading to resolution overall or a protracted dispute.
In another Leasehold property case Mr Stimpson gave evidence in the Central London County Court, in accordance with the Housing Act legislation, and s.146 Notice, in an action brought by freeholders to terminate the Lease, of a severely and unlawfully altered basement flat, and seeking to take possession of the property in which action they were successful. The Leaseholder had failed to obtain Landlord's consent to extensive (and incomplete) works. Our evidence applied the Act to the situation, commendations for the detail of Mr Stimpson's evidence were made by the judge in open court.
Trading Standards Prosecution - Defective Roofing and Loft Conversion works
We were instructed by a London Borough Trading Standards Department, in a case involving a loft conversion, there were concerns as to quality of workmanship. The property owner had paid for a 'loft conversion' which had left the property structurally compromised, and with very poor amateurish roofing works, causing deterioration to the house and wasted materials, as well as incomplete work. The project was spotted by a sharp eyed Building Inspector as being not on the register of notified works. We provided a detailed report, which assisted the Trading Standards Department in Criminal Proceedings. A large sum was repaid to the homeowner by the trader who also pleaded guilty, thereby avoided prison, enabling the homeowner to undertake rectification work.