Friday, 28 September 2007

Check the small print

Shropshire companies in rented properties should check their lease carefully to avoid service charge arguments.

That's the message from Sarah Heath, our Commercial Property Specialist, who said tenants should seek professional advice before they entered into any rental agreement. "The drafting of the lease is the critical part of the deal and it’s crucial that tenants proceed with care."

Sarah said many landlords believed a commercial lease gave them the right to do anything they liked.
"Some landlords run up costly maintenance work bills, assuming that their tenants will not have checked the details of their lease, and so will just automatically pay up. But tenants should take care to check the small print of their lease, because although the service charge clause may seem complicated, generally if it doesn’t allow for something to be done, it can’t be done.

"Your professional adviser should also be able to help ensure your lease does not include catch-all clauses that will cover the landlord, and that it limits the amount that can be paid to any management company to an agreed percentage."

Sarah said the landlord could only recover the cost of the services which were set out in the lease, and even then, only if the right procedures had been followed. "The courts are more frequently taking a closer look at service charge issues relating to business leases – looking at the work the landlord has carried out, what the costs were, and whether the work was necessary from the tenant’s point of view.

"If you think the price of carrying out the work seems high, ask your landlord for detailed plans and, if your lease gives you the right, a breakdown of the costs." Sarah said whether the costs were reasonable would depend on the length and terms of your lease, and whether the landlord had considered all possible methods of repair, rather than just replacing everything.

"Tenants are no longer expected to pay for major refurbishment which they’ll see little or no benefit from in the lifetime of their lease, so if you’ve only got a short time left, consider whether your landlord’s request is appropriate. But you must not ignore the service charge issue and hope it will just go away – ask your landlord for full details, and if it gets very technical, instruct a surveyor to act on your behalf.

"And if you’re going to dispute the service charge, put your concerns in writing. This may help at a later date if you need to apply for compensation."

Perils of promoting your company

Shropshire company directors may face a prison sentence if they don’t take care with direct marketing campaigns.

Our Senior Partner Graham Davies said changes to the Data Protection Act now meant directors would be personally liable if their company did not stick to the rules.

"The Data Protection Act 1998 has been updated and as well as making directors personally liable, it also now carries the threat of a two-year prison sentence and heavier fines."

Graham said the simplest approach was for companies to send a traditional paper mailshot. "There’s far less red tape involved than if you decide to send an electronic mailshot, and less scope for getting things wrong. Generally you’re free to mailshot whoever you like, but if someone asks you to delete their details from your mailing list, you must do so immediately."

"The main message is that you can’t send unsolicited electronic marketing such as emails to anyone unless they have given you their permission – and don’t cut corners by buying lists from third parties without checking they’re legitimate.

"There are some exceptions, such as if you have collected the person’s contact details during the course of a sale or negotiations, and if the information you want to send them only relates to similar products or services. You must also give them the chance to opt out of receiving marketing material from you every time you contact them, and tell them who you are, providing a contact address."

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Risks of tough talking

Shropshire employers should not to take the tough approach when it comes to firing their staff.

John Mehtam is our Employment Law Specialist and he said millionaire businessman Sir Alan Sugar’s direct style was not always the best example to follow.

“Sir Alan’s ‘You’re Fired’ catchphrase is believed to have led to a huge increase in the number of employment tribunals across the country as employers have followed his lead.

“Instead of going through the correct legal process, step by step, employers are finding themselves facing expensive tribunal action after taking the more direct approach.”

But John said Shropshire employers must consider the small print when it came to asking someone to leave their company. “If you don’t follow the right procedures, the staff you sack can take you to a tribunal and claim unfair dismissal.

“You cannot ignore the basic legal requirements, and it’s important to remember that The Apprentice is primarily a television show, designed to entertain its audience. Employers running a business on a more local level on a day-to-day basis must ensure their procedures are appropriate and legitimate, in order to protect their company from tribunal action.”

Beware - they may be watching

Job applicants should beware as their prospective employer could know more about them than they think.

John Mehtam, from our Employment Law Team, said despite the risks of breaching data protection rules, many employers admitted to searching the internet to find out more about candidates before an interview.

“Many employers use search engines to check up on applicants, and some even search social networking sites, so it’s important that candidates take care with the information they post on these sites,” said John.

John said some candidates were already tailoring their online personal details, as it was becoming increasingly clear that both future, and current employers may have access to them.

"This may appear heavy-handed, but it’s important to remember that the wrong kind of information could prejudice your entire career.”

And John said existing employees could also be at risk, although they may well be better placed to take action against your company.

But John said employers should also beware as a number of websites had already been set up to give employees the chance to have their say about their boss.

“The last thing you want is a bad impression of your company appearing online, as you are then unlikely to attract the best kind of staff, which could lead to untold difficulties in the longer term.”