Having worked for Sewell & Gardner for nearly 10 years, I recently found myself in Court, with my Director Jane, to contest a non-payment of Letting Renewal Fees from a current Landlord. We will of course, mention no names, but on this snowy, cold and nasty morning in Luton (Is Luton ever sunny?) we traipsed through the slushy streets to the court house; in fairness, there are 3 Court houses in Luton (Crown, Magistrates & County) and the one we wanted was the 3rd one we found!
Upon arrival at the Court we met with our Barrister, who was representing us for the day, and went over all of our bundle of paperwork before being called into Judge Wilding’s Chamber.
It would appear that the Landlord who was refusing to pay our invoice, was not actually quibbling the fee due, but the fact that in January 2011 we changed our ‘trading name’ from ‘Parkheath’ to ‘Sewell & Gardner’. This Landlord just could not understand that she had entered into a legally binding contract with ‘Wildabout Properties Limited’ who, at the time of the initial instruction, were trading under the name of ‘Parkheath’, a different name to the point when the renewal fees were due and Wildabout Properties Limited were trading as ‘Sewell & Gardner’. Out of hundreds of Landlords on our books at that time, this particular Landlord just could not grasp the information in the 5 letters we sent out her her explaining that the company had not changed, just the ‘trading name’ was different. She remained convinced that she did not need to pay fees to the “new” company … even though there never was a ‘new company’.
‘Parkheath’ was a franchise, and after trading under this franchise for 9 years, the owners of the company (the ‘Sewells: Gary, Alex & Jan’ and ‘Jane Gardner’) came to an agreement with the franchisor that the franchise could come to an end on 31st December 2010, so that they could continue to trade under their own names. This is a perfectly legal and simple exercise which happens all of the time, it does not mean that a company has gone into liquidation or anything sinister, the legal company ‘Wildabout Properties Limited’ (company registration number 4329024) remains unchanged. The reason for the change of name was primarily down to the website & marketing of ‘Parkheath’ (with many London offices) moving in a different direction to that in which ‘Sewell & Gardner’ wanted to go!
Thankfully the Right Honourable Judge Wilding did grasp the point and looked at this lady a little strangely when (her husband) tried to put the argument forward; stating that ‘obviously’ Parkheath must have gone out of business because suddenly they disappeared overnight…. which is 100% NOT THE CASE! The judge quickly entered ‘Wildabout Properties Limited’ into the Companies House register on the internet, and immediately confirmed that the company had been trading since 2002 and that there was absolutely no issue with it’s company records! In addition the Judge showed the terms of business entered into, signed by the Landlord sitting before him, which very clearly stated that the contract was with ‘Wildabout Properties Limited’ currently trading as ‘Parkheath’ but valid for any other trading name. Clearly the Landlord sitting in Court opposite me DID NOT have an argument!
So, after a little too-ing and fro-ing, the Judge order the invoice to be paid in full, and the Landlord trundled off home in search of her cheque book…
However, the sadness of this entire situation, is the complete waste of time and money for all concerned. Myself and Jane had to take half a day out of the office and pay for legal representation for the serving of court papers etc, the Judge was taken up with such a trivial matter, and the Landlord had to settle court costs on top of the invoice due… and this was all because the Landlord either couldn’t read, or just wanted to avoid paying for a service which had been carried out in good faith and totally legitimately.