The First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) is one of seven chambers of the First-tier Tribunal, each of which settles disputes in different fields of the law.
In July 2013 it brought together the responsibilities of several different previous tribunals under one umbrella (most notable among these were the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal, the Rent Assessment Committee and the Residential Property Tribunal).
What the tribunal deals with
The tribunal's responsibilities are pretty wide (including resolving disputes around agricultural land and drainage, council house purchases or park homes), but you're most likely to come into contact with it over one of the following issues:
- Lease extensions
- Collective enfranchisement and right to manage
- Service charges
- Breaches of lease
- Rent increases
Negotiating the tribunal
Before you even take the step of finding a lawyer, it’s worth taking a long, dispassionate look at your case. Try and gauge honestly whether it’s really worth the expenditure and effort of going to tribunal, or whether other options like diplomacy or mediation might be more suitable.
You’ll also need to be realistic about your expectations. If you scan through a few previous tribunal decisions, it’ll become apparent that the tribunal rarely comes down absolutely on one side or another (particularly in the matter of service charge disputes), and that they are primarily (and rightly) concerned with legality rather than more abstract questions of morality. You should go to tribunal with defined and achievable material goals, rather than notions of your landlord/freeholder/agent getting a righteous dressing down in front of the beak.
This focus on the letter of the law also means that, unless you’ve got a good deal of experience in legal matters, you’ll most likely need a solicitor to help you maximise your chances of success.
If you do decide to go all the way, you’ll need to have all your paperwork in order. There’s no point in claiming an insurance charge is unfair if you haven’t obtained better quotes yourself, or telling the tribunal that you weren’t given adequate notice of major works when the landlord can produce dated copies of letters that prove you were. Every assertion needs to be backed up with dates, detail and research, and any requests for information need to be responded to in a timely manner.
Generally the tribunal is a last resort where other tactics have failed, and it's worth noting that they can award costs if they reckon either party acted unreasonably, either in the way they’ve conducted themselves during proceedings, or in bringing proceedings in the first place. This can be a good or a bad thing depending on the way you look at it. On the one hand, it means you'll need to be cool-headed and efficient in your dealings with the tribunal, but on the other hand the threat of financial penalties might stop your opposition dragging their feet.
If a decision from the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) goes against you, you may be able to appeal against it, in which case the dispute is escalated to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber).
Gov.uk has a good introduction to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). The Leasehold Advisory Service also has lots of practical advice (inevitably aimed primarily at leaseholders). In particular, they have an excellent tool where you can browse previous decisions from the tribunal, meaning that you can look at similar cases and get a rough idea of your chances.