Sometimes you have to ask why on earth something like the ground rent scandal ever even happened. As Alastair Stewart’s column suggests, the industry really doesn’t help itself.
Leasehold is a peculiarity of British property law, one with a long history stretching back to the agricultural economy of the Middle Ages, that was devised when land was the central form of economic production and land ownership was tied to social position.
A good example is Transport for London, one of London’s biggest landowners. The Crown Estate, the Grosvenor Estate and others are also based on the leasehold system.
The problem comes when the natural checks and balances fail to function as they should. The role of the solicitor should be to identify contractual obfuscation, imperceptible to most punters, and call it out for what it is. That those with a legal and moral duty failed in their obligation is cause for concern.
The people who have been sold these homes should feel just as aggrieved by their legal counsel as with the sellers.
This scandal also reveals a wider trend within our industry. We seem incapable of reforming ourselves, instead waiting for the cry of public outrage to grow until the authorities feel the need to get involved and invariably ‘stamp out’ certain forms of behaviour. The opportunism of a few has led to those burdened with unsellable properties and crippling payments.
What will be the eventual outcome? A cap on ground rents, or maybe even banning the practice all together? Why must we inflict these easily preventable wounds on ourselves?
We need to get our house in order, otherwise someone else will do it for us. And in all likelihood the consequences will not be pretty.