Sewerby family’s court battle over Charity Farm rent

Michelle and Stephen Lount of Charity Farm.
Michelle and Stephen Lount of Charity Farm.

A FAMILY who claim they might have been overcharged by hundreds of thousands of pounds in rent by a Bridlington charity have spoken of their “hell” after a court battle with trustees – who include a prominent solicitor, a former Chief Lord Feoffee and vicars at two of Bridlington’s biggest churches.

The Lount family run a caravan park on Charity Farm, in Sewerby, on land rented from the Bridlington Charities – an amalgamation of smaller charities presided over by some of the town’s leading business and public figures.

They claim that for years the charity have charged almost double the going rate for rent by including improvement works carried out by the family in their valuations of the property – which the Lount’s solicitors say is prohibited by the 1954 Landlord Act.

The dispute over the rent led the charity to claim the family had lost its right to be granted a new tenancy – a claim overturned by a judge sitting at Leeds County Court in June.

Steven and Michelle Lount, who have seven children, currently live on the site which was first rented as an arable farm to Steven’s grandfather in 1927, and say that the charity could have received up to an extra £15,000 a year.

In a statement to the Free Press, Mr and Mrs Lount said: “The Lount family has been improving the site for years.

“The family developed the farmhouse and put in the means for it to become a caravan park, and we have been paying for it ourselves.

“The valuations that have been produced for the charity have been charging us rent on our own improvements.

“Our rent in the last lease we signed was £35,000 – when according to our surveyor it should be closer to £20,000.

“It has been hell trying to deal with this, it has almost torn our family apart. I don’t know why the charity has been charging us the extra money, and I don’t know why they cannot just apologise and make amends for what they have done.

“I would like the trustees to tell us why they have done it.”

The dispute began around two and a half years ago, when Mr and Mrs Lount instructed Andrew Jackson solicitors in Hull to look into their lease which had come up for renewal in 2010.

They had previously instructed David Burnett of Bridlington firm Stuart, Smith and Burnett to deal with the lease, as well as other legal matters.

Mr Burnett is a trustee of the Bridlington Charities and was listed as a defendant when the case went to Leeds Combined Court in June – alongside Helen Hughes, Judith Brameld, Patrick Norton, Clive Wilson, The Rev Jonathan Couper of Christ Church, The Rev Adrian Cragg of Bridlington Priory and Kerrigan Redman on the court document – leading the Lount’s to claim that there was a conflict of interest.

Mr Burnett declined to comment when contacted by the Free Press.

Andrew Mead, clerk of the Bridlington Charities, told the Free Press: “A new tenancy was offered to the business H Lount and Sons Ltd in 2010 on better terms than were in place beforehand.

“Although these terms were accepted by their representatives, H Lount and Sons Ltd rejected the offer of a lease and took legal proceedings against the charity.

“It would be inappropriate for further comment as terms for a new lease are currently being discussed between our representatives and it is hoped that our tenant, H Lount and Sons Ltd, will accept the terms of a new lease in the near future.”

Mr and Mrs Lount say that the only reason they went to court was because they discovered the problem with the rent. A timetable has now been drawn up by Judge Cockroft, who heard the county court case sitting at Leeds, for a new lease to be offered.

This came after the Lounts refused to sign a new lease in 2010, arguing that the rent should be lower, which led to an impasse between themselves and the charity until the court case in June which ruled the family had not lost its right to be granted a new tenancy.

The family say the Bridlington Charities tried to describe them as ‘tenants at will’ so that they could evict them at any time – and invite another party who may be willing to pay the inflated rent figure.

However, after only needing to hear evidence from Mrs Lount, Judge Cockroft ruled that a new lease must be 
offered, with the matter coming back before a court early next year if an agreement is not reached.

The Lounts are now asking how long the charity will continue with the legal battle, after the Bridlington Charities paid for their own legal fees – and covering £14,000 of the Lounts which they were ordered to pay by a judge.

“I would like to know how long this is going to go on for as the charity is paying a lot of its own money out on legal fees,” added Mrs Lount. “This whole situation has left me in ill health and I have needed to take medication.”

The Bridlington Charities is registered with the Charity Commission.

A report produced by the commission lists the charity’s objective to be helping ‘the general benefit of the poor’ of the town – mainly with fuel payments to the needy which amounted to donations of £46,500 in 2010.