Arnold v Britton and Others

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtSupreme Court
JudgeLord Sumption,Lord Carnwath,Lord Hughes,Lord Neuberger,Lord Hodge
Judgment Date10 Jun 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] UKSC 36

[2015] UKSC 36

THE SUPREME COURT

Trinity Term

On appeal from: [2013] EWCA Civ 902

before

Lord Neuberger, President

Lord Sumption

Lord Carnwath

Lord Hughes

Lord Hodge

Arnold
(Respondent)
and
Britton and others
(Appellants)

Appellants

Timothy Morshead QC Rawdon Crozier

(Instructed by Fursdon Knapper Solicitors)

Respondent

Michael Daiches

(Instructed by Morgan la Roche Solicitors)

Heard on 26 January 2015

Lord Neuberger

( with whom Lord Sumption and Lord Hughes agree)

1

This appeal concerns the interpretation of service charge contribution provisions in the leases of a number of chalets in a caravan park in South Wales.

The facts
2

The facts may be summarised as follows (although they are more fully set out by Lord Carnwath in paras 81 to 103).

3

Oxwich Leisure Park is on the Gower Peninsular, and contains 91 chalets, each of which is let on very similar terms. The five leases which we have seen were granted between 1978 and 1991, either for a premium (of less than £20,000) or in return for the lessee constructing the chalet. Each of the 91 chalets was let on a lease which was for a term of 99 years from 25 December 1974 and reserved a rent of £10 per annum increasing by £5 for each subsequent period of 21 years. Para (2) of the recital of each lease contains the statement that the chalets on the Leisure Park were intended to be subject to leases "upon terms similar in all respects to the present demise".

4

Clause 3 of each lease contains various covenants by the lessee, and it is introduced by the words:

"The lessee hereby covenants with the lessor and with and for the benefit of the owners and lessees from time to time during the currency of the term hereby granted of the other plots on the estate so far as the obligations hereinafter mentioned are capable of benefitting them …"

The covenants that follow concern use, repair, alienation and the like. Crucially for present purposes, clause 3(2) is a covenant to pay an annual service charge. Each lease also contains covenants by the lessor. One such covenant is to provide services to the Park, such as maintaining roads, paths, fences, a recreation ground and drains, mowing lawns, and removing refuse. The lessor also covenants in clause 4(8) that leases of other chalets "shall contain covenants on the part of the lessees thereof to observe the like obligations as are contained herein or obligations as similar thereto as the circumstances permit".

5

Twenty-five of the chalets are said by the respondent, the current owner of the Leisure Park and the landlord under the leases, to be subject to leases containing a service charge provision in clause 3(2), which requires the lessee to pay for the first year of the term a fixed sum of £90 per annum, and for each ensuing year a fixed sum representing a 10% increase on the previous year – ie an initial annual service charge of £90, which increases at a compound rate of 10% in each succeeding year. The issue on this appeal is whether the respondent's interpretation of clause 3(2) in those 25 leases is correct.

6

Of the 25 leases in question, 21 were granted between 1977 and 1991. Prior to the grant of most of those 21 leases, the other 70 chalets had been the subject of leases granted from the early 1970s. In each of those 70 leases, clause 3(2) was a covenant by the lessee:

"To pay to the Lessor without any deduction in addition to the said rent a proportionate part of the expenses and outgoings incurred by the Lessor in the repair maintenance renewal and the provision of services hereinafter set out the yearly sum of Ninety Pounds and value added tax (if any) for the first three years of the term hereby granted increasing thereafter by Ten Pounds per Hundred for every subsequent three year period or part thereof."

The effect of this clause, at least on the face of it, is that the initial service charge of £90 per annum was to be increased on a compound basis by 10% every three years, which is roughly equivalent to a compound rate of 3% per annum.

7

The 21 leases referred to in para 6 have two slightly different versions of clause 3(2), but the clause can be set out in the following form (with the words shown in bold included in 14 of the 21 leases, but not in the other seven):

"To pay to the Lessor without any deductions in addition to the said rent as a proportionate part of the expenses and outgoings incurred by the Lessor in the repair maintenance renewal and renewal of the facilities of the Estate and the provision of services hereinafter set out the yearly sum of Ninety Pounds and Value Added tax (if any) for the first Year of the term hereby granted increasing thereafter by Ten Pounds per hundred for every subsequent year or part thereof."

8

To complicate matters a little further, the service charge clause in four of these 21 leases (being three of the seven which did not include the words in bold in the preceding quotation), had the word "for" before "the yearly sum of Ninety Pounds". These four leases also included a proviso to the effect that, so long as "the term hereby created is vested in the [original lessees] or the survivor of them", clause 3(2) would be treated as being in the form set out in para 6 above. This proviso has ceased to have effect as these four leases are no longer vested in the original lessees.

9

Finally, the service charge clause in four of the 70 leases referred to in para 6 above were varied pursuant to deeds of variation executed between October 1998 and August 2002 so as to be identical to that set out in para 7 above, including the words in bold.

The issues between the parties
10

As already explained, the respondent, the current landlord, contends that the service charge provisions in clause 3(2) of the 25 leases referred to in paras 6 to 9 above have the effect of providing for a fixed annual charge of £90 for the first year of the term, increasing each subsequent year by 10% on a compound basis. The appellants, the current tenants under 24 of the 25 leases, primarily contend that the respondent's construction results in such an increasingly absurdly high annual service charge in the later years of each of the 25 leases that it cannot be right. They argue that, properly read, each service charge clause in the 25 leases requires the lessee to pay a fair proportion of the lessor's costs of providing the services, subject to a maximum, which is £90 in the first year of the term, and increases every year by 10% on a compound basis. In other words, the appellants argue that, in effect, the words "up to" should be read into the clause set out in para 7 above, between the words "the provision of services hereinafter set out" and "the yearly sum of Ninety Pounds". The appellants also have an alternative contention, based on the provisions of recital (2), the opening words of clause 3 and the provisions of clause 4(8) of their leases, namely that the lessor cannot recover more by way of service charge than could be recovered under each of the first 70 leases.

The evidence
11

Apart from the documents themselves and the published Retail Price Index (RPI) for each of the years 1970–2010, there is no evidence as to the surrounding circumstances in which the 21 leases were executed, other than the fact that the four leases referred to in para 8 above were granted to individuals connected with the lessor. Following a request from the court, we were also told that three of the four deeds of variation referred to in para 9 above were entered into with the lessor's daughter as lessee.

12

I do not find it surprising that we have not been provided with any further evidence. So far as the wording of clause 3(2) is concerned, there may have been letters or notes of discussions in connection with the original drafting and granting (and, in the four cases referred to in para 9 above, the amending) of the leases. But, even if such notes or letters had survived, I very much doubt that they would have thrown any light on what was intended to be the effect of the drafting of the various forms of clause 3(2). Even if they had done, they would probably have been inadmissible as I strongly suspect that they would merely have shown what one party thought, or was advised, that the clause meant. If such documents had shown what both parties to the lease in question intended, they would probably only have been admissible if there had been a claim for rectification.

13

As to the possibility of other material, I am unconvinced that, even if it existed, evidence of the original level of services, the original cost of the services or any investigations made on behalf of a potential lessee in relation to the original services and their cost would have assisted on the issue of what clause 3(2) of any of the 25 leases meant. The provisions for increase at the end of clause 3(2) of each lease were plainly included to allow for inflation, and the only evidence which appears to me to be potentially relevant would be contemporary assessments of the actual and anticipated annual rate of inflation, and, as already mentioned, we have the RPI for each of the years in question.

Interpretation of contractual provisions
14

Over the past 45 years, the House of Lords and Supreme Court have discussed the correct approach to be adopted to the interpretation, or construction, of contracts in a number of cases starting with Prenn v Simmonds [1971] 1 WLR 1381 and culminating in Rainy Sky SA v Kookmin Bank [2011] UKSC 50; [2011] 1 WLR 2900.

15

When interpreting a written contract, the court is concerned to identify the intention of the parties by reference to "what a reasonable person having all the background knowledge which would have been available to the parties would have understood them to be using the language in the contract to mean", to quote Lord Hoffmann in Chartbrook Ltd v Persimmon Homes Ltd [2009] UKHL...

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