Can a Landlord recoup defence costs and damages from own breaches?

Can a landlord recoup damages and legal costs arising from it’s own breach of covenant through a service charge?

In the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) case of Fairbairn v Etal Court Maintenance Ltd [2015] one of the services the landlord could recharge under the service charge was doing “all other acts and things for the proper management administration and maintenance of the blocks of flats as the Lessor in its sole discretion shall think fit.”

The Tribunal said such a general charging provision was, in principle, wide enough to cover the costs of legal advice or even, where appropriate, of litigation.

However a sum paid to meet a successful damages claim for breach of covenant is not expenditure on the proper management and administration of the buildings.

Also, the legal work here was not so much advice on whether repair work was within the landlord’s covenant. It was rather defending the landlord’s failure of compliance.

In short, the steps required of the landlord resulted from the landlord breaching it’s own obligations under the lease.

The landlord’s repairing covenant required it to maintain the unlet parts of the buildings, including their foundations and structure, in good and substantial repair and condition.

It was precisely because the proper management and administration of the building had been neglected, for however short, that proceedings were commenced by the tenant. So the damages and legal costs were not recoverable through the service charge.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.