Property Section chair Warren Gordon provides updates on some of the key issues in property law and practice, including Dreamvar and leasehold, and looks ahead at the Property Section’s autumn events

I would like to kick off this Comment piece by reflecting on the Property Section’s extremely successful Conveyancing convention in Birmingham in June. This was the first major Property Section event outside London in recent times, and we were very gratified with the fantastic response. There was an excellent turnout of over 60 people from around the country, and I would like to thank the BPP for the excellent venue and facilities and Birmingham Law Society for their hospitality. The event has greatly encouraged the Property Section to host future major events around the country.

In terms of legal and practice developments, there remains uncertainty as to how to respond to the Dreamvar decision on solicitors’ liability for losses caused by the ‘seller’ being a fraudster. The Law Society’s interim informative, issued at the start of July, helpfully suggests some steps that you can take now. The focus is on identifying high-risk matters, in which respect the Land Registry / Law Society joint advice note on property and title fraud will prove helpful. The informative cautions a buyer’s solicitor against asking the seller’s solicitor questions on every occasion about what checks they have carried out on their client. Instead, the focus should be on situations where there are indicators of potential fraud of the type highlighted in the joint note. Importantly, if questions are raised, the buyer’s solicitor needs to pursue the responses properly.

The Law Society is currently considering what, if any, changes are required to its Code for Completion by Post as a result of Dreamvar, and further information will be provided to the profession as soon as we can.

There remains uncertainty as to how to respond to the Dreamvar decision on solicitors’ liability

Following the government’s announcements at the end of last year in relation to its crackdown on unfair leasehold practices (such as outlawing most leasehold new build houses and setting zero ground rents for new residential long leases), the Law Commission has begun to provide more substance on how this may be achieved. There will be a formal consultation later in the year, but the Commission has published a summary paper on proposed solutions for leasehold houses, which outlines a range of measures to help existing leasehold homeowners buy the freehold of their houses, including options for changing the valuation formula by reducing the price while providing sufficient compensation to landlords. Change is very much afoot in the residential sphere, as also evidenced by the government’s consultation in July on a controversial proposal to make residential tenancies in England subject to a three-year minimum term. While it is proposed that there is a break for either party after six months, the landlord’s break rights for the rest of the term are more restricted than for the tenant. This proposal is causing concern among landlords.

Looking forward, I would encourage you to join us at the Law Society’s National property law conference 2018, the key theme of which is housing, development and land supply. This is the Property Section’s flagship event and takes place on Wednesday 10 October at the Law Society in London. There will be keynote addresses from Kevin Hollinrake MP, member of the select committee on housing, communities and local government, and Tom Walker, deputy CEO of Homes England, and panel sessions on the challenges of land supply for developers, and protecting consumers in relation to new build and leasehold properties. Our panellists include Kate Faulkner, and senior figures from the profession, property industry and public sector. Professor Nicholas Hopkins from the Law Commission will talk about the Commission’s proposals on residential leasehold reform.

The proposal to make residential tenancies subject to a three-year minimum term is causing concern among landlords

The conference also caters for commercial property specialists, with leading speakers covering topics including the new RICS commercial service charge code, commercial leases, and key issues affecting commercial property. We also have a session on the implications of Dreamvar and a senior representative from HM Revenue & Customs answering questions on stamp duty land tax (see Kathryn Robertson’s article for more details).

I would also like to encourage you to join us at the Property Section workshops, taking place on 20 September in London and 6 November in Bristol, at which John de Waal QC of Hardwick Chambers will present a practical session on risk and negligence in property transactions.

We are in the course of planning our 2018-19 programme and we want to know what you would like us to include, so we can make sure the Section gives you exactly what you’re looking for to support you in your practice. If you have any ideas or suggestions for topics, speakers or articles etc, please do email us.