Some time ago I bought a sandwich shop and later sold it on to two businessmen, who ran it for a few years. Then one day a letter turned up from a firm of solicitors to tell me that the men had done a bunk and I was liable for the rent arrears of about £5,000 and that I would continue to be liable until the end of the lease.
My solicitor advised that it was a 'slam dunk' of a case, as he put it. I had signed the lease and I was liable until the lease expired. Now I knew this was technically correct. But it is rare for landlords to go back down the line of tenants for arrears. They generally pursue the incumbent tenant. However, I think this landlord thought I was an easier target.
I then went away and found some previous legal cases which had failed in their attempts to recover rent arrears because the landlord had made no reasonable effort to chase the new tenant. 'Eureka', I thought. But, before I could ring my solicitor, he rang me and asked if I had ever been served with a Section 42 notice by the landlord's solicitors, which must be served on you for the rent arrears - it isn't enough just to put a letter in the post. I said I hadn't.
He felt we may be OK, wrote to the landlord's solicitor asking about this and we held our breath. Then, incredibly, he got a return letter enclosing a copy of the Section 42 notice that had supposedly been posted to me. I took one look at it and knew I had never been served with or seen one. A firm of solicitors was falsifying documents against me. You couldn't make it up - but they could and were.
My solicitor, to his credit, believed me. But how were we ever going to prove it? Some days later he rang me and asked me to pop in to see him. He handed over electronic copies of the supposed notice and its covering letters. He had very cleverly obtained these by asking the secretary to the landlord's solicitor to email him copies of the documents. I opened these on a PC and saw that the electronic, and otherwise hidden, date stamp on the document was some months after the date that the documents were supposedly sent. We had 'em! The solicitor and I sat there, genuinely stunned.
I never did end up paying that money, and I never did pursue the solicitor for his job. I will keep my powder dry.
9 January 2014 | 09:18 |