Harris and Harris – going from strength to strength in 2017

Two new faces have joined Harris + Harris Solicitors to build its specialist legal teams.

The firm now employs more than 50 people in its two offices in Frome and Wells after welcoming Christiana Olomolaiye and Victoria Panchal, who work from the Stony Street office.

Christiana, who has been practising as a solicitor since 1992, brings a wealth of experience to the firm’s Commercial Property department in the public, private and charity sectors.  Her expertise is mainly in the sales, leases and disposals of commercial and charity properties, agricultural land, and in development and planning agreements, construction contracts, and urban regeneration schemes.

Quote from Christiana:  “Frome’s creativity and enterprise boosts its commercial property market. It is great that Harris and Harris is well positioned to offer its services in such a dynamic environment”.

Victoria, who grew up in Bristol, joins the firm’s Residential Property department after spending several years in London.  Victoria deals with freehold and leasehold sales and purchases as well as re-mortgages and transfers of equity.

The two new appointments build on previous recruitment to the Wills and Probate department led by Caroline Fletcher in Frome, who has developed the Private Client Department since joining the firm in August 2013.

Partner Neil Howlett welcomed the new recruits to the Frome team:  “We, and our clients, are fortunate that we have been able to recruit so many experienced and talented Solicitors to work in Frome.  They will continue Harris & Harris’s ethos of being professionals with a human face.”

Airbnb

We’ve all heard of Airbnb, some of us have used it as guests and some may have been hosts or thought about it.  It is one of the many things that look easy to do because it is online.

Owners, especially long leaseholders, have a range of legal obligations that may apply to them.  Airbnb won’t give you legal advice about these, and disclaims all liability for the conduct of hosts, so it is up to you to get it right.  If you are thinking about being an Airbnb host you need to plan and protect yourself.

Here are some of the pitfalls owners and leaseholders should be aware of before offering your property on Airbnb:-

  • Health & Safety – Fire Safety, Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms
  • Insurance – Both Household & Property.  Be aware that if you are in a flat with a block contract you may not be able to change that or it may cost you money.  Airbnb warns that the cover it offers does not replace this.
  • Mortgage Lender – Most mortgages exclude subletting, or require permission to be obtained, which may be at a fee or require higher interest rate.
  • Your Lease – Most leases contain restrictions on use and sub-letting.  Many restrict flats and houses to “a single private residence”.  There is already a court decision that lettings for days or weeks is a breach of this restriction.  You are also likely to be responsible to other leaseholders and neighbours for noise or nuisance caused by your guests.
  • Planning – Subletting may be a breach of planning law.  Special rules apply in London.
  • Taxation – Income from Airbnb is taxable.  There is a limited exemption for letting part of their main residence.  There are indications that the Treasury and HMRC will be asking more questions about this type of income in future.

Some of these laws have criminal sanctions, some may lead to substantial personal liability.  At the least you may face a lot more stress and cost than you anticipated.

There is more detailed advice from the Leasehold Advisory Service here.  This was set up in 1994 to provide free information, initial advice and guidance to members of the public about residential leasehold law. Lease’s advice is independent and impartial.

New Regulations for Landlords – Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 will come into force in England on 1 October 2015 even though they have only just been approved by Parliament. They impose significant new duties on private landlords for new tenancies starting after that date. The aim of the regulations is to reduce the number of injuries or deaths from smoke or carbon monoxide poisoning in the private rented sector.

From 1 October 2015, a landlord of a private sector tenancy must ensure that a smoke alarm is fitted on each storey of the premises on which there is a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation. Also, a carbon monoxide alarm must be installed in any room which is used wholly or partly as living accommodation and contains a solid fuel appliance.

At the start of a new tenancy, the landlord or the landlord’s agent must carry out checks to ensure that each smoke and carbon monoxide alarm is in proper working order on the day the tenancy begins.  This does not include renewals or statutory periodic tenancies arising from fixed term tenancies that commenced prior to this date.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has published a booklet containing guidance for landlords and tenants.

DCLG: The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015: Q&A Booklet for the Private Rented Sector – landlords and tenants (September 2015).

Significant concerns were raised in the House of Lords that not enough has been done to inform landlords of the changes and that the legislation is badly drafted. Landlord who do not act quickly risk a £5,000 fine. See Hansard, House of Lords debates, 14 September 2015, at column 1720.

The Legal Ombudsman and Stamp Duty Land Tax

The Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is one of the routes for redress for client of regulated legal services providers. He has recently been in the press expressing concerns about Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) which is payable in many conveyancing transactions. The LeO hasn’t issued any figures so the extent of the problem isn’t clear. It seems from his examples that it mainly arises from firms which have received money to pay SDLT but have not paid it out, and have become insolvent. That’s wrong, and in some of the instances appears to have been dishonest. The LeO doesn’t deal with disciplining lawyers so we can’t link his examples with disciplinary action taken by the SRA.

The LeO has issued tips for consumers which are sensible:

1. Try and avoid any nasty surprises. Make sure you know from the start how much stamp duty you will have to pay.

H&H will tell you what you should expect to pay when you first contact us.

2. Consider getting like for like quotes.

The LeO warns against firms who charge extra for submitting the SDLT Return, he says typically £75 to £100 on top of their fees. Beware “headline” figures which have extras added.

H&H will give you an estimate for the whole job at the start.

3. Seek confirmation that your lawyer has met the 30 day deadline.

Stamp duty has to be paid within 30 days of completion; we will do that, it is part of our job. If you want us to confirm we have done it please ask and we will. Unless we have submitted the SDLT Return we cannot apply to HM Land Registry to record the transaction so if we tell you we have done that you can be sure we’ve done both.

4. Know your options if the lawyer ceases trading.

This should really be the first – put this way it is like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The first principle should be “Don’t instruct someone you don’t know and trust”. Are you confident they have a good record and are secure? In case you are wondering, H&H does and is

5. Be wary of fraudulent activity.

There are a lot of new entities in the legal market, some of whom may be good, but some have new adventurous and risky business models. Are they more than just a website? We’re sticking with what we know works, looking after our clients so they come back again.

6. Avoid the temptation to cut corners.

The LeO says “be wary of any scheme offering to reduce your stamp duty liability – if it seems too good to be true it usually is.” We sometimes have to tell clients that “cunning plans” put to them by third parties will not work and may be illegal. The same advice applies to very cheap quotes for work – conveyancing factories may be able to cut their costs but at what price to you?

7. Be clear about lender or builder promotions and what they mean.

Some mortgage lenders will offer to “pay your stamp duty”. Usually, this means the lender will lend you an extra amount equivalent to the stamp duty, so you are still paying it. Similarly, a builder may offer an “allowance” against the house sale price. That’s just marketing; sadly builders don’t yet offer Buy One Get One Free!

If you want to deal with someone you can trust contact the Harris & Harris Conveyancing Department.