One of the many things I stopped doing during lockdown was reading the news.

I still read professional publications such as law reports, and I read some financial news such as the FT and newsletters from organisations such as Hargreaves Landsdown, but I don’t do the popular press or social media any more, as I’ve had too many real life examples of them being full of rubbish.  It’s not just that they report on things that just aren’t news (such as whether or not some useless “celebrity” has had cleaned up their act in rehab) but so much of what they say is just plain garbage.  I’ve been places where the news is actually happening around me, and then read about it in the media afterwards where what they’ve written bears no relationship to what I witnessed.  The phrase never let the truth get in the way of a good story could not be more true.

However you’d think that if you read a contract, you could rely on what you found.  Well think again.

I regularly have clients telling me that they must be able to do or not do what they want, because the contract says so, or there is no contract and so they can’t be bound by anything.

Whilst that is often true, it’s not always the case.  For example, there are a number of laws, such as the Unfair Contract Terms Act which can override what you’ve put in writing between you and another party.  So you the parties could have agreed that they are not responsible clearing up the mess if someone on the other side dies or is hurt, and a court can come along and strike that clause through, because whilst you can limit your liability for things like the other sides losses, you cannot exclude everything.

The most recent example of this I saw was in an Assured Shorthold Tenancy.  At the end of a tenancy it is common (and entirely reasonable) for the tenant to have to return the property in good condition, clean and tidy, but due to a recent change in the law, the landlord can no longer insist that the property be professionally cleaned which can be REALLY expensive (especially when some dirty landlords will have tame cleaning agencies who put in inflated invoices for a backhander).  The most a landlord can ask for is that it be cleaned to a professional standard, even if the AST requires more.  The reality may be that even if you scrub the place from top to bottom, they could still argue that it’s not good enough, but it does at least give the tenant the right to argue about the standard, and doesn’t automatically entitle the landlord to get a professional cleaner in.

So whether you are reading a contract, or reading the news, take it all with a pinch of salt!

Kleyman & Co Solicitors.  The full service law firm.  Sweeping through changes in the law.