“In December 1985 about 30 of the 50 tenants at the Grand issued proceedings in the High Court against Mr. Stainer(pictured) (the defendant) in his capacity as landlord.”
So began the “History of the Proceedings” that form section 57 to 79 of the First Tier Tribunal Property Chamber’s (FTT) decision of July 5th 2018 (the FTT decision is at the end of the post). The applicant in this case was the Association of Residents in the Grand (AORG), represented by their chairperson, Peter Cobrin and the respondent, Hallam Estates Ltd, who were unrepresented as their directors and owner where absent throughout. The AORG application sought the appointment of a new Manager and the variation of the Management Order imposed in 2014 by the FTT. This followed the removal from direct responsibility for the management of the Grand’s residential areas of Michael Stainer and his agent, Roderick Baker of Fell Reynolds.
This could sound a dull and turgid “History” and an outsider could be forgiven at this point in this report to switch off and say, “enough of this Stainer nonsense”. It would be a shame though, because that is exactly what the FTT decision set out to do, after reviewing the evidence gathered both in the April hearing, the preceding 33 years, and in particular the conduct of Hallam Estates, Mr and Mrs Michael Stainer and general manager, Robert Richardson since 2014.
The Tribunal catalogued a series of events demonstrating a cavalier attitude towards the responsibility of a landlord to his building, his leaseholders and at times, even the law, on the part of Mr Stainer, his wife Doris Stainer and Robert Richardson (pictured). Proof as to how the FTT viewed this is by their including in their directions the highly unusual proposal “to attach a penal notice to the Order to ensure compliance by Hallam Estates and its officers.”
This is a controversial area and would not be considered unless there was a real concern as to the likelihood of non-compliance. The Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Property Chamber) Rules 2013, which gives the FTT its case management powers, do not provide for the making of penal orders. However, the County Court does have the power to enforce orders made in the First-tier Tribunal.
Either way, Hallam Estates and its employees are on notice as to their future behaviour, and on the basis of their past, they have along way to go. As we said, Hallam Estates were unrepresented and failed to file any submissions. Mr and Mrs Stainer, as officers of the company, and Peter Sarstedt as shareholder, were absent and silent. Nonetheless, through the Stainer’s personal solicitor, Andrew Duncan, strenuous efforts were made to delay proceedings on the basis of medical “evidence” relating to the alleged “assault” on Mr Stainer on January 26th. The FTT gave this very short shrift as the application wasn’t from Hallam Estates who were the respondents and unrepresented, although fully capable of securing representation. In fact, the FTT were thoroughly unclear as to who was instructing Mr Duncan, finding him “unhelpful and not compliant with their duties”. In the end, they refused the adjournment and in one significant sentence stated:
“The applications made by Mr Duncan on behalf of Mr and Mrs Stainer (pictured) were not transparent and designed to frustrate proper scrutiny of their merits.”
So, what did AORG seek to achieve in its application, and what did it get?
* The removal of the grossly unfair allocation of liability for service charges with the freeholder to bear a fair share of the financial burden for maintaining the Grand: evidence submitted showed that the leaseholders burden of the running costs had increased from around 82% to 97% — because Michael Stainer, in his own words in 2013, “was not able to raise sufficient funds from the commercial uses of the building to cover the shortfall”. As the FTT concluded, residential leaseholders were subsidising the commercial interests. These have been run for the last 8 years by Robert Richardson, and the various legal entities are either in liquidation or subject to liquidation proceedings. Richardson was a director of at least two of these companies at the time he was arrested in July 2015.
The FTT determined the landlord must pay 25%, around £50,000 per annum, on top of the residents’ contribution, a figure arrived at courtesy of Mr Stainer’s own admission that around 25% of the Grand was commercial. Perhaps even more persuasive were the drawings provided by Miriam Cobrin, a Grand resident and retired Chartered Architect, whose detailed drawing of the Grand formed the basis of the FTT’s assessment both of areas and their usage.
Clarity over who had managerial responsibility for residential and commercial areas: the blurring of what constituted commercial and what were residential areas had led to endless squabbles over CCTV and accusations of ‘spying’, noticeboards, access control etc. with the Grand’s general manager, Robert Richardson, claiming authority over all residential common parts and access ways, as well as sole control over the CCTV.
Based on Miriam Cobrin’s drawings, the FTT has identified the residential area, its common parts and access ways and put them under the sole control of the new manager who will also take over all the surveillance systems, noticeboards and access control – a long-running source of concern simply dealt with.
The capacity to deal with breaches of the leases: evidence submitted by residents complained of the nuisance of having holiday lets in the midst of a residential building in breach of their leases, some being used for overtly commercial interests such as the Ershamstar School of Clairvoyance.
The FTT has given the manager the right put such breaches before the FTT for further guidance and action which could include lease forfeiture.
Ensuring maintaining the commercial areas were not a financial burden on residents
The FTT was offered a lengthy guided tour of the commercial areas by Robert Richardson in January in which he showed the detailed improvements and high levels of maintenance. As a result, the FTT had made it 100% clear that the service charge fund shall not contribute to any such works, especially the Palm Court glazed area. Nice one, Robert!
Sorting out the refuse: to the external observer, the idea that disposing of refuse could be a source a dispute lasting over 5 years seems an absurdity, especially when the obligation of this landlord, Hallam Estates, is embedded both in legislation and in lease obligations. However, the general manager Robert Richardson thought otherwise, first withdrawing the provision of garages historically used for refuse storage, then seeking to charge for them at 4 times the going rate, and then interfering in a negotiation between leaseholders and Shepway Council with fake emails in the name of William Lang, a so-called local resident.
The FTT decided that the two garages should be provided without charge to residents.
Getting a notice board for residents: the noticeboard historically used by residents was taken over by Robert Richardson for the benefit of holiday-let users and self-aggrandisement.
The FTT has required that there should be a noticeboard for the use of residents – trivial but symbolic of the end a regime in which Richardson personally had to approve any notice.
Finally, don’t forget that the Stainers still have an ongoing personal liability for the service charges on 19 flats and an unpaid judgement debt for arrears of £276,000, this on top of their personal insolvency proceedings. And that just last week Mr Stainer had bankruptcy proceedings on Tuesday 3rd July at Canterbury County Court and the next day at the High Court in London.
So what did AORG seek in its application that it didn’t get?
[Note: Hallam Estates has the right of appeal but given its choice not to file an application nor make an appearance, its unclear what rights, if any, it has.]
So, at the end of a few bad weeks for the Stainers which have included both personal and corporate insolvencies, courtesy of HMRC, the uncertainty as whether or not be subject to criminal proceedings, the loss of all their flats and their own home, what words of comfort can we offer?
As for Robert Richardson, much cherished (and self-cherished) by the Institute of Hospitality and a local school as their Enterprise Adviser, what can we say to him – credibility shredded by the FTT, the businesses he claims to manage facing bankruptcy, what comfort for him?
Answers please to…………………..
The Shepwayvox Team – Dissent is NOT a Crime