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Local authority defeats bid for relief against forfeiture of lease for non-payment of service charges

A High Court master has dismissed a claim against the London Borough of Lambeth for relief against forfeiture for non-payment of service charges reserved as rent.

The case involved a flat leased by a couple who had returned to Sierra Leone leaving it under the management of man known only as Geoffrey.

Lambeth gained possession in the county court and lessee Martha Timbo’s claim for relief was issued in the High Court in July 2018, some 14 months after forfeiture and nearly 12 months after the possession order was made.

In a judgment published on Bailii this week Master Shuman said that since this was outside the six months' time limit, “what I am being asked to exercise is an equitable jurisdiction in the High Court to grant relief from forfeiture”.

She found in Timbo v London Borough Of Lambeth [2019] EWHC 1396 (Ch) there had been “a dilatory approach to seeking relief from this court, without any adequate excuse or explanation for that delay”.

Master Shuman said there had been “a significant poor payment history in this case, certainly since 2012 when the first judgment in default in respect of service charge arrears was entered”

The Timbos bought the lease in October 2009 and sometime in 2010 returned to Sierra Leone, “so within a relatively short time the claimant and her husband fell into service charge arrears”, she noted.

Ms Timbo submitted evidence that there was sufficient money in her late husband’s bank account to meet the liabilities due to Lambeth and any terms the judge might set as relief.

Master Shuman said she was not satisfied on the evidence before her that the defendant could pay the £34,522.87 outstanding to Lambeth.

Dismissing Ms Timbo’s claim, Master Shuman said: “She has failed to provide any adequate explanation as to why she did not bring the claim earlier.

“Even today she has not demonstrated that she has the financial means to pay any sum ordered by way of a condition of granting relief. So it is an inevitable consequence that if I refuse relief [Lambeth] will receive a windfall.

“However that is at the doors of the claimant herself, because that is where the fault rests. That fact alone and in light of the other matters that I have considered does not tilt the balance and persuade me that I should exercise my equitable jurisdiction and grant relief from forfeiture.”

Mark Smulian

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