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In this week's bulletin we cover a case that asserts the importance of showing there has been a formal delivery for an exchange of contracts during a property sale; and provide an overview of a new consultation obliging private residential landlords to abide by a 'Decent Homes Standard'.

Hafiz Mohammad Aslam v Abdul Rehman [2022] UKUT 251 (LC) - Delivery is necessary for an exchange

The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) in Hafiz Mohammad Aslam v Abdul Rehman [2022] UKUT 251 (LC) considered whether there can be a valid exchange of contracts, without the formal delivery of each party's respective parts to the other.

The case mostly dealt with a contention that a contract for sale of a property, 189 Walton Road in Woking, between the seller, Hafiz Mohammad Aslam (Aslam) and the buyer, Abdul Rehman (Rehman) required formal delivery – i.e. the process of the two parties (or their respective representatives) demonstrating that they are handing over their parts of the contract, with the intention of the contracts being exchanged.

After what Rehman considered to be an exchange of contracts (an in person meeting without the presence of solicitors at which Rehman produced a contract prepared by solicitors) – which would then bind both parties to a sale of the property in question – Rehman entered a unilateral notice on the property's title register to protect the contract. However, Aslam applied to HM Land Registry to cancel it, as he did not consider exchange to have occurred. Rehman objected to the cancellation, maintaining that the contract had in fact been exchanged.

What had happened was that Rehman had understood he was Aslam's agent, and once Aslam had handed over his part of the contract to Rehman, Rehman considered that was sufficient for him to determine that an exchange had taken place either then or when Rehman had handed the contracts to solicitors.

The First-Tier Tribunal agreed with Rehman; however, the Upper Tribunal dismissed that argument. It held that while the First-Tier Tribunal agreed with Rehman on the basis that he was understood to be Aslam's agent and that therefore a delivery must have taken place after Aslam had handed his part of the contract over to Rehman, the mere handing over of Aslam's part to Rehman – even if he was Aslam's agent - did not demonstrate, as a matter of fact, Aslam's intention to formally deliver it so as to exchange contracts.

This case highlights the importance of showing beyond doubt that a formal delivery has occurred for the purposes of an exchange (clear evidence is required as simply inferring it has happened, in light of the circumstances, is unlikely to be insufficient) and the safest route is for both parties to instruct solicitors who can exchange using one of the established Law Society formulas.

Consultation on improving the standard of homes in the private rented sector

On 2 September 2022, the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities launched a consultation seeking to improve the standards of private rental accommodation.

At present, there are a variety of standards placed on private landlords via legislation. For example, the Housing Act 2004 gives councils a duty to take enforcement action against landlords should they identify certain hazardous conditions in the rented home and the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 gives tenants the power to sue landlords for breach of contracts where a property is unfit for human habitation.

This consultation aims to go further by creating a set of enforceable standards – the proposal names 4 criteria, requiring that homes must:-

  • meet the current statutory minimum standard for housing (i.e. that which is provided for in the Housing Act 2004);
  • be in a reasonable state of repair (which extends to components in the dwelling's structure, external elements, and internal services; which must be repaired if, according to tables of age and condition, they are old and in need of repair);
  • have reasonable facilities and services (which relate to criteria concerning kitchen space, bathroom location, external noise insulation, and common entrance space); and
  • provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort (which requires the dwelling to include heating systems which the proposal considers to be 'efficient heating').

To enforce these standards, the proposal aims to build upon the existing powers given to councils and place a legal duty on landlords (or other identified 'responsible persons') to constantly meet the standards and declare their property is decent, rather than possibly wait until there is an inspection by the council for those standards to be placed upon them – with landlords being exempt where, for example, a building is listed or newly-bought and therefore upgrading a dwelling presents a greater challenge. This legal duty would carry with it the threat of civil penalties, prosecution, and a ban on letting or property management activities. Additionally, the proposal includes a requirement that landlords repay rent to tenants where they have not complied with the standards.

The consultation expires on 14 October 2022 and responses can be made here: A Decent Homes Standard in the private rented sector: consultation.

Insights from around the firm

Positive news

  • The Swedish capital’s dirty diesel ferries will soon be superseded by greener, sleeker fleet that runs on electricity. Whereas the old diesel-powered fleet belches out an estimated 8 per cent of the country’s total shipping emissions; the new electric ferries will reportedly use 80 per cent less energy, be virtually silent, and will slash operators’ fuel bills by 90 per cent. Commuters can also expect reduced journey times, whilst sensor-controlled stabilisation promises to make sea sickness a thing of the past!
  • Ukraine techno heads have taken things a step further by combining dance events with fixing up bombed-out buildings, as part of a spirited effort to rebuild towns destroyed by Russian artillery. Repair Together began initially by cleaning bomb sites without the backdrop of electronica, but later added the party element to draw in volunteers. “It was a must for me” said the student, speaking from Kyiv. “I can’t just stand on the side and watch. We have to keep on moving – with music, and by cheering ourselves up. It’s the only way we can be useful – otherwise we’re just going to sit there and cry, and that’s no use to anyone.” The clean-up "raves" are seen as a much-needed return to some sense of normality for young people in Ukraine, while also giving them a stake in the wartime effort. Repair Together has so far hosted nine clean-up raves in three villages, as well as carrying out repairs to homes damaged by shelling. Their next mission is to build 12 houses in the nearby town of Lukashivka before the winter.
  • An artist from Kent has achieved his childhood dream – to live in a house full of doodles. Sam Cox, known as Mr Doodle, has covered every inch of his home, from his bedding to his microwave – with doodle art. The project was completed using 900 litres of white emulsion paint, 401 cans of black spray paint, 286 bottles of black drawing paint and 2,296 pen nibs. Like it or not, it is pretty impressive!