Property and development
We assist registered providers with transactions including: acquiring leases, staircasing, enfranchisement, granting leases, lease renewals, lease extensions, lease variations, sales (including forced sales following repossession by mortgagees) & sales under the right to buy & right to acquire schemes. We also assist with the preparation of ancillary documents such as charges, deeds of priority & pre-emption agreements where required. Our experience of acquisitions & disposals includes: acquisitions of portfolio properties, site, development & individual properties. We have an in depth understanding of conditional contract, option agreements, planning & planning agreements & funding arrangements. In addition to the work we do for registered providers we are also appointed by local authorities and quasi government bodies, such as the West Yorkshire framework agreement, and more recently Leeds Housing Federation for this area of work.
We act for Housing Associations and local authorities nationally, including: being recently appointed to Barnsley Council in 2018 for General Litigation work, The Greenfields Community Housing Framework, which can be accessed by the 19 members of the Procurement Agency of Essex, the West Yorkshire Framework Agreement and South Liverpool Housing.
Stephensons has significant experience in work involving homelessness, housing allocation, challenges to housing authority policy, disrepair and possession cases and advisory / regulatory function. Stephensons’ specialists regularly appear in court in proceedings and other housing litigation. This litigation experience includes ASBO and ASBI cases. The team have advised/acted on many cases involving ASB issues, and have obtained a number of urgent injunctions involving different forms of ASB ranging from unlawful use of property to serious domestic violence to smaller scale tenancy breaches.
We can work with your housing teams to assists with more complex possession cases or tenancy breaches. We also recognise that our involvement may be required in a case which we have not previously been involved in and would be pleased to assist.
Right to buy and right to aquire schemes
Stephensons has extensive experience acting for housing associations and landlords of secure tenants who are entitled to buy their properties under right to buy and right to acquire schemes. The schemes offer qualifying tenants the opportunity to purchase the home they rent at a discount, provided that both they and the property are eligible. The landlord is responsible for processing tenants’ right to buy and right to acquire applications and we are able to provide best practice advice to landlords with a view to helping process the applications you receive in an efficient and effective way.
The legislation exempts certain types of properties from the right to buy and right to acquire schemes and details the specific criteria that must be met for exemption. Landlords must therefore assess each application received to ensure the right to buy and right to acquire tenants qualify to buy the property at the discount. The legislation is complex but we have a wealth of experience in our commercial property team advising housing associations and landlords of secure tenants in relation to the obligations contained within the legislation.
Once each application has been assessed, and if the tenant qualifies for the scheme, Stephensons can assist with the legal formalities of preparing the transfer documentation and transferring the property to the tenant. Legislation sets out the requirements which the transfer documentation must meet, including a requirement for an appropriate repayment of discount covenant to be included. This safeguards the discount and ensures the landlord has the right to ask for repayment of all or part of the discount it if the tenant sells their home within the first five years.
We have comprehensive understanding of the right to buy and right to acquire processes from start to end and are well placed to help landlords of secured tenants and housing associations navigate the legislation and requirements. Please contact Stephensons if you require advice in relation to the right to buy or right to acquire schemes and we would be happy to discuss your needs.
We can assist this sector with, commercial disputes, alternative dispute resolution, construction and adjudication, property litigation (commercial and residential) fraud recovery, insolvency litigation, defamation, injunctions and emergency protective measures, asset tracing and recovery, professional negligence, intellectual property protection and disputes that arise between business owners. This is a growing area of work.
This team provides advice to employers and senior staff in relation to HR law and practise. We provide advisory services and insurance for clients, as well as tribunal representation. Our team of six advisers and lawyers act for housing associations. SME clients, insurers, local authorities, trade bodies and member associations. We provide niche insurance solutions to our clients and operate entirely on a fixed fee structure for all services.
This team operates an IT driven debt collection system that provides our clients with a sophisticated and effective debt collection service. All of this work is provided to clients at fixed fees. For all organisations cash flow is key and our housing association clients are no different.
This team provides advice to businesses across a number of sectors. We represent companies and individuals in criminal proceedings (Magistrates and Crown Courts) and also those facing investigation and prosecution by regulatory authorities, for example, the Traffic Commissioner, Environment Agency, Food Standards Agency, HMRC and Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. This team carries out intervention work for the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority and prosecutes cases for local authority clients.
Our commercial advice and deals specialists can assist registered providers with: licencing, joint venture agreements, intellectual property, terms and conditions, agency, confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, information technology and e-commerce and data protection. We also provide advice on non-disclosure agreements.
Our team is able to provide ad-hoc advice to clients on any procurement procedure for their own business. This has led to a number of successful bids by clients.
Our work in the supported living / sheltered housing sector is among the fastest growing areas of our work in conjunction with Registered Providers. Where other firms might handle a small amount of this work for providers who have supporting living as part of their overall offering, Stephensons’ clients include housing associations which specialise only in supported living matters. Stephensons is now renowned for this complex niche work with a volume and quality of work which we believe to be unmatched among our peers. In these transactions we will liaise closely with funders, local authorities, the housing association and other relevant parties to ensure the planning is obtained, service level contracts and/or nominations agreements are in place, properties are acquired and leases are put in place with the housing association to provide the supported living required. We have an excellent track record in this field for achieving outstanding results for our clients.
Recent examples of legal activity
Acquisitions and sales – one off transactions, including conditional contracts, overage provisions, for land and buildings of all nature and size. Complexity ranging from single plot, to multi titled site building.
Re-sales of leasehold property, including deeds of covenant - we deal with routine requests for consents for re-mortgage when the owner is still within the discount period and agreeing deeds of postponement and land registry consents to second charges and re-mortgages. We also deal with giving consent to re-sales of properties acquired by right to acquire or right to buy where the properties are still subject to the right of first refusal. Where the right of refusal is not exercised, we deal with the requirement for the new buyer to enter into a deed of covenant to observe the right of refusal.
Sales under right to buy and right to acquire - We have conducted over 100 right to buy and right to acquire transactions for one client, since our first instruction in November 2015. We have developed a bank of precedent documents and letters purely for these transactions, so that they can proceed quickly and most importantly cost effectively from the point of instruction to completion. A number of these transactions have been complicated by the placement of solar panels on the properties. We have achieved a positive outcome by working with the client to develop a standard form solar panel lease which allows them to retain the solar panels on the property and the benefit of the feed in tariff payments for a period of 25 years following the sale of the property.
Development agreement - we have recently been instructed by a registered provider in relation to two large development projects that it was undertaking with one collaborative developer. It was agreed in each instance between the developer and our client that following the developer acquiring a site from the council, it would develop it alongside an adjoining site belonging to our client. The developer proposed to deliver new residential properties on each of our client’s owned sites, together with new public open space and construction of affordable housing. Our client thereafter agreed to purchase eight properties from the developer on its recently acquired site, once the development was complete to increase its housing stock
Sewer adoption agreements - S.104 - we are able to assist in relation to all aspects of the development and were further instructed by a registered provider client to consider the proposed s.104 agreement in relation to sewer adoption. We reviewed the agreement to ensure that our client’s position was suitably protected and ensure it was aware of all obligations under the agreement.
Commercial contracts – include for example, negotiating, advising and completing demolition agreements, HR outsourcing contracts, IT contracts, payroll contracts. All concluded to strict time frames. Several instructions have included: advising on, issuing and responding to OJEU procurement processes.
We acted for a housing association who had attended three prior hearings to obtain possession of a property. The case was not straightforward and the tenant’s solicitor had prevaricated making it difficult for the client to progress the case at all. After the third hearing we spoke to the housing team and was informed that we would be instructed to attend the next hearing. A partner in the team advised that we should take action at that time rather than waiting for the next hearing to ensure that a successful possession order was obtained then rather than facing another adjournment. The outcome we achieved for the client, after spending some time exploring the evidence, was that we assisted the client to file a supplemental statement which rectified some deficiencies in the case. We then negotiated with the tenant’s solicitor, which culminated in an agreed order being made by the court at the hearing. Having worked on that case we identified that part of the client’s policy for evictions was not being followed and provided training and assistance to prevent this from occurring again and enhancing performance.
Stephensons acted for a housing co-operative, in seeking possession of a property where it was suspected that the tenant was sub-letting, rather than using the property as her main residence.The client deemed the tenant to be manipulative and evasive, making the information gathering process more time consuming and complex.Stephensons worked closely with the client to extract evidence over a period of time until sufficient evidence had been gathered to satisfy grounds for possession.It was understood that one ground, in isolation was not sufficient to obtain possession of the property. However, on the weight of the evidence supplied, the possession was ordered at the first hearing – a significant improvement on the previous attempts by the client, using other solicitors. The tenant then applied to set the order aside, claiming she had not received the papers as she was visiting relatives overseas.Stephensons challenged this claim, on behalf of the client, and the judge agreed that the order for possession should stand. This was an extremely successful outcome for our client. Stephensons was also able to recover the costs for the client.
The team have also acted in this sector in obtaining bulk anti-social behaviour injunctions to prevent a client’s housing stock being used for criminal purposes, obtaining injunctions quickly and effectively.We follow the HCA guidance in advising on evictions and anti-social behaviour actions.As well as acting for housing association clients we also regularly advise private landlords on disrepair. We are on the panel for two insurers and currently advise around 100 private landlords every year.
We act for a newly formed housing association. This client purchased part of a large development site from a national house building company, as a percentage of the site was required to be designated shared equity/shared ownership. They acquired a freehold interest in a first phase, comprising 5 units, and a leasehold interest in the second phase, comprising 30 units.We have been instructed to deal with disposals of the 35 units off plan, on a shared equity basis by way of 125 year leases. This has required us to undertake an extensive review of the title documentation (including the transfer under which our client acquired the freehold to the first phase, the lease under which our client holds the second phase and the development agreement under which the units have been/are being constructed) and thereafter draft conditional contracts, long leases, deeds of covenant, bespoke shared equity charges & deeds of priority.
We have acted for a group of housing associations for in excess of 20 years. Recent bulk transactions include: general sales, right to buy sales, leases/licences to occupy, assignments, acquisitions & developments, complex lease variations, rent reviews including shops/commercial property, shared ownership, development agreements, tenancy & housing management advice, grant funding, supported housing management agreements & general advice.In addition to standard instructions, we assist with more complex transactions, for example:
Varying a 49 leases on one estate following further redevelopment.
Providing opinion and proposed variations to inherited management agreements.
A complicated secured grant funding arrangement. This involved the review of management agreements, varying of existing grants & security, preparing new charges, & complicated pre-emption agreements & transfers of part allowing the site to be split
Legal 500 comments
"Stephensons Solicitors LLP acts for a number of housing associations and local authority clients on a range of issues such as policy, asset transfers, disrepair and possession, and has experience in cases involving anti-social behaviour and tenancy breaches. The team is also experienced in supported living developments, where Chris Graves is noted. Louise Hebborn leads on housing management matters and David Baybut heads the real estate department." (2020)
"Stephensons Solicitors LLP has a ‘pragmatic approach’ and delivers ‘timely advice’. It acts for registered providers and is noted for its niche expertise in advising clients in the supported living and sheltered housing sector. The team is also active across property acquisitions and disposals, finance, dispute resolution, regulatory, housing management, debt collection and commercial work. The team advises South Liverpool Homes on re-sales of leasehold property and development agreements, advised Kirklees Council on the disposal of land for residential development to a registered provider of social housing, and advises Fairhome Group on the delivery of supported living schemes. David Baybut leads the team, which includes Kate Bullen, who specialises in commercial property and residential development; Louise Hebborn, who handles disputes; Alistair Gregory, who leads on debt collection matters; employment specialist Philip Richardson; and Chris Graves , who is experienced in supported living developments." (2018)
“David has been the relationship Management for Fairhome Group plc for 4 years. We find the advice David gives is clear to follow and shows strong knowledge of the sector in which we operate. This knowledge translates into a comprehensive service that is delivered in a timely way according to our needs.” - Joe G Newman, Head of Legal Services Fairhome plc.