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Premier Property Litigation Solicitors

WH Lawrence is a leading specialist property litigation law firm, committed to providing outstanding service and value for money in resolving our clients’ disputes in the property sector.

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Why Choose Us?

Bespoke Real Estate Litigation practice

Three partner practice at WH Lawrence, with a background in some of the top real estate dispute teams in the country. With around 60 years of property litigation experience between us, you can be sure you’re in safe hands.

Cost Effective Legal Services

Stream-lined, cost effective, legal services. No commoditisation of services (such as the use of standard templates and junior staff): this is a cheap but inappropriate solution for most clients. Contentious property matters commonly involve extensive case law and statutes. Experienced advisors with practical, commercial solutions are imperative.

Efficiency and Flexibility

Partner level service at around half the rates of city firms, proportionate to the dispute. Achieved by:

  • low overheads: no expensive city offices or extensive administrative staff but support and meeting rooms available centrally in London and other major cities, as and when needed.
  • support network of lawyers and staff available to meet the demands of a particular instruction.
  • efficient use of junior counsel for research based work (more efficient than the use of trainees and junior solicitors in larger law firm structures).
  • maximised use of information technology and online resources.
  • more flexible, tailored fees, compared to those possible in more traditional law firm structures.

An Alternative To Traditional Law Flirms

No inexperienced staff who learn on the job, no partner supervision time of junior fee earners –both are features of the traditional law firm structure, the cost of which is passed to clients. Immediate, pragmatic advice direct from the partners, who are involved cradle to grave.

Focusing On What We Do Best

True specialists: it is not our goal to provide a wider range of services outside our property-based expertise but we regularly work alongside clients’ transactional, commercial or other lawyers and professionals and always respect existing relationships.

Working With Others

We build teams for your case with an established and extensive network of property related professionals:

  • barristers
  • surveyors
  • valuers
  • planners

and other expert witnesses.

What others say……

Legal 500

“Property litigation boutique WH Lawrence Solicitors is ‘extremely responsive and knowledgeable with a real feel for the client’s needs and a clear and concise approach’. Practice head William Lawrence is ‘an exceptionally knowledgeable property specialist with an excellent manner with clients, who get great comfort from his calmness, his realistic approach and his extreme diligence’; Richard Anyamene and Illyr Pride are also noteworthy names. The team covers the full gamut of property litigation including commercial landlord and tenant issues, spanning rent reviews, break notices and lease renewals; residential matters including enfranchisement issues, rent deposits and residential possessions; and land law claims including boundary disputes, party walls and rights to light. Clients include investors, developers, landlords, local authorities and house builders.”

Put your case in the capable hands of our skilled property litigation solicitors. For service in the City of London and beyond, call 020 7406 1457.

Specialised Knowledge Of All Aspects Of Property Litigation

Access to neighbouring land

We advise and can make court applications in relation to the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992.

Access to a neighbour’s property can usually be dealt with amicably. However, where neighbours have fallen out, it may be necessary to seek a court order if a party needs access to a neighbour’s land.

Plainly, access is not granted “as of right”. We advise on whether your proposal to access your neighbour’s land comes within the criteria set out by the legislation. Equally, we can act for a party opposing such an application.

Adverse possession and boundary disputes

Adverse possession and boundary disputes often sit hand in hand.

They arise most commonly in residential, but also sometimes in commercial, contexts.

Our role is to arm clients with a realistic assessment of the issues and likelihood of success as early as possible.

Key to understanding the merits of an adverse possession claim is not only the period of possession, but also whether the person claiming possession has control over the land in question and the subjectively demonstrate possession of the land to the outside world. The Land Registration Act 2002 brought in sweeping changes to the law. We guide clients through this minefield of legislation and case law.

Our work for a typical boundary dispute might involve: detailed interpretation of the conveyances and other relevant deeds and plans; application of pertinent legal presumptions depending on the circumstances; comparison of the written description of the boundary, its marking on any plans and its presumed location on the ground. Site visits are generally essential.
These disputes are rarely straightforward. We provide clients with as much clarity and certainty as possible, often with the assistance of expert surveyors.

We also assist, wherever possible, in resolving boundary disputes without litigation. Mediations are usually worthwhile, so long as both sides have the combined ‘will’ to resolve their differences.

Agricultural tenancies

We are one of the few practices with capability to advise on agricultural law.

Our expertise is commonly sought as to the means by which the landlord and tenant relationship between landowner and farmer is affected by agricultural legislation.

Two statutory regimes are of particular relevance, namely the law relating to agricultural holdings under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 and that relating to farm business tenancies under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995.

Both landowners and tenant farmers face common issues arising from these statutory regimes, such as the means by which an agricultural holding or farm business tenancy may be terminated and on what grounds (where grounds for termination are required), together with the rights of farmers to compensation in some circumstances.

Consideration of agricultural queries inevitably also brings into play common law principles relevant to landlord and tenant law, to the extent that this has not been changed by the statutory regimes.

Alterations

We are able to assist clients in relation to disputes involving alterations to their property. Usually, this will be in the context of a landlord and tenant relationship, where consent to alterations may be necessary or where alterations are allowed but only upon certain conditions being fulfilled.

Break notices

When leases are to be terminated by notice, we are often asked to assist: landlords wish to retain their tenants at all cost and tenants are desperate to leave loss making premises. We guide tenants in exercising break rights successfully and landlords in challenging a tenant’s wish to leave.

Tenants are sometimes unaware of the strict legal hurdles to be complied with, both when serving the break notice itself, and in complying with the often stringent conditions for successful exercise of the break at the termination date.

Some conditions (particularly relating to leaving the premises reinstated and in repair) require detailed consideration. Even relatively minor breaches of the lease can cause an attempted break to fail.

We draft break notices and guide tenants through the break clause minefield. The implications of getting it wrong are stark for tenants: they may be saddled with unexpected rental obligations for the remainder of the term.

For landlords, our role is reversed: we advise on whether tenant’s efforts to break have been successful. Where there is uncertainty, our role will also extend to negotiating settlements as to the terms on which a lease will end.

For both landlords and tenants, we are also experienced in seeking court declarations as to whether a break has successfully been implemented.

Commercial rent arrears recovery (CRAR)

The remedy of distress for arrears of rent was replaced by the Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery (“CRAR”) regime in April 2014. It is a self-help remedy for landlords to pursue arrears against tenants based upon the procedure and rules set out in the legislation. We can advise landlords who are contemplating taking such action or tenants who are the subject of a CRAR procedure against them.

Contract disputes

We advise a range of clients on all manner of contractual disputes, whether the contract is set out in a written document or (as is often the case) agreed verbally and informally.

Consent to assign or sublet or alter

When a tenant wishes to extricate itself from its lease obligations, but has no right to terminate altogether, it may consider assigning or subletting to a third party, in order to limit liability so far as possible.

Usually, when a third party is found, a landlord’s consent to the proposed arrangement will be required. Landlords are often able to impose conditions on any consent. Landlords need to consider the ability of the proposed party to meet rental and other obligations under the lease.

Often landlords need to act reasonably and swiftly in considering the tenant’s application, failing which it may face an accusation that consent has been unreasonably withheld or delayed.

Landlord’s duties imposed under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1988 are key. We help clients (both landlords and tenants) in analysing their respective rights and duties arising from the alienation clauses and under statute.

Occasionally, a tenant argues that a landlord has unreasonably refused or failed to respond to applications in time. This may lead to a claim for a declaration and damages. We are able to guide our clients in bringing and defending these actions.

Similar considerations apply to consent by tenants for alterations.

Construction disputes

We have capacity to deal with construction disputes on behalf of our clients, whether relating to commercial or residential property.

Damages claims

We are able to advise our clients in relation to damages claims. Claims may arise in many different circumstances but inevitably it will be necessary to assess the methodology by which damages should be calculated and whether, when acting for a claimant, the amount claimed can realistically be recovered or, when acting for a defendant, whether the claimed damages can be reduced or extinguished altogether. In property related cases, we may well engage experts: we regularly work with property valuers, surveyors and other professionals who assist in providing expert evidence on behalf of our clients.

Debt claims

We pursue or defend debt claims for our clients. Part of our remit will usually be to assess the best and most cost effective means of recovering the debt, taking account of speed and likelihood of recovery. This may sometimes involve the service of a statutory demand or winding up petition.

Defective Premises Act

Under section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972, a duty is owed where a landlord either has an express obligation to repair or maintain the premises or has no such direct obligation, but has an express or implied right to enter the premises to carry out any description of maintenance or repair.

Where the duty applies, the landlord owes a duty to all persons who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises to take reasonable care to ensure that they are safe from personal injury, or damage to their property caused by a 'relevant defect'.

We are able to assist landlords and tenants in resolving disputes relating to this legislation.

Derogation from grant

The principle of derogation from grant usually relates to a situation where a landlord grants a certain right to a tenant, but then substantially interferes with the ability to exercise that right to be exercised. Often disputes of this nature will overlap with arguments relating to the obligation to give quiet enjoyment. We help both landlords and tenants in disputes of this nature.

Development agreement disputes

Development agreements can quite often become contentious between owner and developer. Generally, such agreements are dependent on obtaining satisfactory planning permission, which can often become contentious. Equally, overage arising from development agreements can sometimes become an issue. We are in a position to advise both owners and developers alike in resolving or litigating disputes of this nature.

Dilapidations

We have extensive experience in dealing with dilapidations claims acting for both landlords and tenants alike. We work closely with building surveyors and valuers, who are an essential part of the team in pursuing or defending the dilapidations claim. As a matter of course, an early assessment is made as to whether section 18(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927 will have any significant impact on the claim. This legislation tends to be relevant where a landlord with a dilapidations claim intends to carry out development or demolition works, which may lead to a reduction in the level of damages that may be recovered.

Easements

Easements refer to the rights attached to land which allow the owner either to use another piece of land (or restrict its use) in a particular way.

Common examples include rights of way, the right to light and rights of support.

Disputes involving the nature and extent of particular rights may arise. For example, whether the right of way in a particular deed was intended for use on foot only or extends to vehicular or some other wider use.

Where residential extensions or commercial developments affect the level of light into a neighbouring property, we are equipped to advise either side on their respective rights.

We guide clients on all areas of the law relating to easements. We pursue (or defend) damages claims or injunctions, where necessary.

Enfranchisement and lease extensions

We are able to assist clients in relation to both collective and individual enfranchisement matters, including lease extensions. The relevant legislation is contained within the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 and Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993.

Estoppel

Proprietary estoppel is a means by which property rights can be affected or created, so as to make the assertion of strict property rights unconscionable. The estoppel gives rise to an equity in favour of the person who is entitled to assert the estoppel. In brief, the claimant must have acted in the belief either that it already owned, or would obtain, a sufficient interest in the defendant’s property to justify the detriment which the claimant has incurred. The assurance or promise must be one which the claimant believed the defendant was obliged to honour.

First tier tribunal claims

Our practice extends to residential leasehold disputes heard before the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber - Residential Property) which has jurisdiction in relation to:

• service or administration charges
• the cost of building insurance
• appointment of a manager
• Right to Manage
• breach of a lease
• varying a lease
• recognising a tenants’ association
• buying the freehold
• extending the lease

Applications before the tribunal have different rules compared to mainstream county/high court proceedings, particularly in relation to costs recovery and so specialist advice in this area is paramount.

Forfeiture

Forfeiture can be a powerful weapon for landlords to adopt against a defaulting tenant. It involves bringing a lease to an end early, whether for rent arrears or other breaches of the tenant’s covenants.

However, any landlord contemplating forfeiture should tread carefully: getting the procedure wrong or seeking to forfeit when the right does not exist, or has been waived, may lead to a damages claim by the tenant.

We advise both sides on procedures and tactics relevant to forfeiture. We draft relevant notices when required as a precursor to forfeiture. We assist (and will attend on the day) if a landlord considers changing the locks.

In appropriate cases, we also give guidance on the the applicability of the Leasehold Property (Repairs) Act 1938 to the forfeiture process.

Finally, tenants may seek relief from forfeiture. We advise landlords and tenants upon the merits of relief from forfeiture applications.

Frustration

The concept of frustration relates to the inability of a contract to be performed further as a result of some changed circumstance, such as destruction of the property or, perhaps, a change in legislation rendering further performance of the contract illegal. Frustration issues sometimes arise in relation to leases of property, particularly where a property has suffered significant damage or been completely destroyed.

Inherent defects

Inherent defect arguments tend to arise in a landlord and tenant context. Depending on the scenario, either a landlord or tenant may argue that a particular item suffers from an inherent defect and so does not, strictly speaking, form part of their repairing obligation.

A covenant to repair does not carry with it an obligation to remedy poor design, faulty installation or any other defect that has not caused damage to the property. Where there is no disrepair, remedying such a defect would be an improvement rather than a repair.

The relevance of an inherent defect argument will therefore depend very much on the wording of the lease.

Interim rent

Interim rent is an issue that may arise in business lease renewal proceedings. In broad terms, it relates to the rent payable between the coming to an end of the old lease and the start of the new lease.

Often, the interim rent will be the same as the rent payable at the commencement of the new tenancy but this is not always the case and is sometimes the subject of dispute between landlord and tenant.

Jervis v Harris clauses

Most leases will contain what is known as a Jervis v Harris clause. It allows a landlord, during the term of a lease, to enter the premises to carry out repairs and recover the cost of doing so from the tenant as a debt, in circumstances where the tenant has failed to comply with a notice to repair served by the landlord.

Pursuing a debt (as opposed to a damages claim) can be a useful weapon for a landlord, as damages claims for disrepair during the term are generally difficult to pursue.

Equally, it can be a risky approach, with potential arguments as to whether the works carried out by the landlord were actually necessary or properly fell within the repairing covenant.

Landlord and tenant disputes

Our practice regularly deals with all manner of landlord and tenant disputes, whether for business or residential clients.

We act for both landlords and tenants on either side of the argument.

Lease renewal (contentious)

Lease renewals of business leases can often be resolved amicably but this is not always the case.

Firstly, where a landlord accepts that the tenant is entitled to a new lease, there may be disagreement as to the lease terms, particularly as to duration and rent.

Secondly, a landlord may dispute a tenant’s entitlement to a new lease altogether, based on one of the statutory grounds, such as redevelopment.

We work with both landlords and tenants in relation to unopposed and opposed lease renewal proceedings, litigating where necessary but also assisting in speedy resolution without a trial, if at all possible.

Licences and tenancies at will

It is not uncommon for informal arrangements to be agreed whereby a party is permitted to occupy premises, whether for their business or home.

Informal arrangements can later become problematic, particularly where the owner wishes to regain possession. One of the first questions to arise in these cases is the legal basis for occupation. Does the occupier have any rights as a tenant or is the position more akin to a licence or tenancy at will?

The answer to such questions can be critically important in deciding whether an occupier must vacate or has some statutory rights, perhaps as a business tenant, to remain in occupation and possession.

Misrepresentation

Misrepresentation claims tend to arise in relation to sales of property, where allegations are made to the effect that a false statement was given prior to exchange which induced the buyer to entering into the contract.

The courts recognise different types of misrepresentation (fraudulent, negligent and innocent) with different consequences and remedies, depending upon which one applies.

Neighbour disputes

Neighbours can fall out for a variety of reasons, whether it relates to disagreement over who owns disputed land or as to the actions that one party has taken that in some way affect their neighbour. Generally, the courts strongly encourage alternative dispute resolution, rather than litigation, in such circumstances.

We are able to advise on the best way of reaching a quick and speedy resolution with your neighbour, whatever the scenario.

Nuisance

Private nuisance claims can arise in a variety of ways, whether as a result of noise or smells travelling from a neighbour’s property or, perhaps, dust and fumes caused by building works. Not all infringements of this nature will form the basis of a nuisance claim. However we can guide you in assessing whether such a claim has merit or in defending a claim brought against you.

Occupier's liability

Under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957, occupiers owe a duty of care to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to all their visitors in respect of dangers due to the state of the premises or to things done or omitted to be done on them. Case law has set out that the harm which occurred must be a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant's conduct; a sufficient relationship of proximity or neighbourhood must exist between the alleged wrongdoer and the person who has suffered damage; and it must be fair, just and reasonable to impose liability.

If you have a potential occupiers’ liability issue, we can assist in its resolution.

Party walls

The Party Wall Act 1996 sets out a process whereby a building owner intending to carry out party wall works is required to serve a notice on any adjoining land owner specifying the works intended to be carried out as well as the proposed start date of such works.

The process then allows for the adjoining land owner either to serve a positive acknowledgement of the notice, a negative acknowledgement (objecting to the proposed works), or to do nothing. In the latter two scenarios, the next stage of the process is for the dispute resolution mechanism to kick in, whereby surveyors are appointed to survey the proposed works, consider any objections, and to make a PWA 1996 award.

Possession claims

There are numerous circumstances in which a landlord may seek possession of premises from a tenant, in both a residential and commercial scenario.

In the residential context, it will always be necessary to assess the basis upon which a tenant is occupying, as tenants’ rights can differ substantially, depending on the legislation that is applicable.

We can advise both landlords and tenants in relation to possession claims.

Professional negligence

One of the occupational hazards of professional life is that, however unintentional, mistakes are sometimes made which have serious financial repercussions.

This commonly might involve negligent advice from solicitors in a property transaction or surveyors involved in, say, valuations or at rent review. Our role is to review what has gone wrong, assess the extent to which blame can be attributed to the professional and the damages to which a client may be entitled, often with the assistance of expert witnesses.

We are also available, with sensitivity, to assist professionals and their insurers in responding to and, if appropriate, defending them against property-related complaints from their clients.

Claims must first follow the pre-action protocol relating to professional negligence. If settlement discussions fail, we then pursue or defend professional negligence claims on behalf of our clients.

Quiet enjoyment

A covenant for quiet enjoyment will either be expressly referred to in a lease or will, in any event, be implied.

Rectification

Rectification is an equitable remedy involving the amendment of a document to accord with the intention of the parties.

Parties to a contract may have had a common intention or understanding when they drew up their contract as to what it meant but that meaning has not been reflected in the drafting.

There are detailed rules whereby contracts may be rectified based on common or unilateral mistake on which we regularly advise our clients.

Rent arrears

We have in depth experience in advising landlords and tenants alike in disputed rent arrears cases, taking cases to trial and/or negotiating settlements.

For landlords, the mandate is usually clear: seek recovery of the outstanding debt as quickly and cost effectively as the facts permit. Depending on the circumstances, a number of options might arise: service of a statutory demand (the precursor to bankruptcy/winding up) or, possibly, a straightforward court claim where the arrears are disputed. Other landlord and tenant specific options may also be available.

For tenants, the priority is to establish whether or not the arrears are properly due and then, where appropriate, the potential successfully to defend a landlord’s claim.

Where appropriate, we investigate the possibility of pursing third parties for the debt (such as guarantors or sub-tenants. Equally, we are sometimes asked to advise third parties as to their liability.

Rent review

Rent review provisions in leases are of fundamental importance: a landlord’s ability to increase rent and a tenant’s ability to challenge the level of increase go to the heart of the contract.

Our expertise includes advising on the rent review mechanics: particularly how and when to implement a review and the consequences of failing to adhere to the lease’s requirements.

Notwithstanding general principles of contract interpretation, specific rules of interpretation often apply to rent review clauses.

If the review is not agreed, we guide clients when seeking a written award by, or hearing before, an arbitrator or independent expert in conjunction with expert witnesses.

Where necessary, we assist clients in seeking to rectify defective rent review terms or in applying to have certain terms implied as part of a claim for declaratory relief.

Our remit also includes professional negligence claim against solicitors or surveyors: where failings in drafting of the rent review clause or in valuation advice leads clients to suffer loss.

Restrictive covenants

The law relating to restrictive covenants, so far as freehold land is concerned, is complex. It relates to restrictions placed on the use of land for the benefit of someone else’s land. Examples might include restrictions on the height of a building or on activities which can be carried out there.

Our clients seek guidance as to their ability to challenge restrictive covenants, whether they are a party who is subject to the restriction or who have the benefit of it.

We analyse, amongst other things, whether the covenant really is restrictive: some covenants, such as requirements to carry out repairs, may be positive rather than negative.

Equally, the full meaning of the covenant is always relevant, together with the question of who precisely has the benefit and burden of the covenant.

The question of enforcement of the restrictive covenant, particularly by (or against) successors in title, is regularly encountered.

In appropriate circumstances, it may then be necessary to apply to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) to seek the variation, modification or discharge of the covenant in question.

Damages claims may also arise as a result of breaches of restrictive covenants or an injunction may be a possibility.

Sale contract disputes

We advise both sellers and buyers in disputes relating to the sale of property. This may involve situations where a seller refuses to sell or a buyer refuses to complete a property transaction, even though a contract has been exchanged compelling them to do so.

Ordinarily, the first step may be the service of a notice to complete, making time of the essence of the contract. Common issues encountered include the possibility of repudiatory breach of contract by the seller or buyer; the possibility of an application for specific performance of the contract; and claims for damages arising from the breach.

Service charges

Commercial service charge disputes are based primarily on the terms of the lease itself.

Do the particular works carried out by the landlord fall within the defined list of services? If not, does the service charge fall within the “catch all” provision usually set out in the lease?

Has the tenant’s contribution to the proportion of the overall costs been calculated correctly?

To what extent does the landlord need to act reasonably when deciding whether to carry out a particular service and in passing on that cost?

Has the landlord fulfilled its own obligations to carry out services? If not, to what extent might the tenant be entitled to a refund or to damages?

Have the mechanics for recovery of service charges been followed strictly? For example, have service charge accounts (where necessary) been prepared and certified, properly, or at all?

We regularly guide landlords and tenants on these questions and other service charge related disputes.

Tenancy deposit schemes

Landlords are now in certain circumstances obliged to lodge deposits in an approved tenancy deposit scheme. This secures the deposit and, in general terms, provides a procedure for resolving disputes relating to how much, if any, of the deposit may be retained by the landlord at the end of the term for non-payment of rent or for failure to comply with the terms of the tenancy. We assist both landlords and tenants in relation to such cases.

Tenant insolvency

We regularly advise landlord clients on the implications of tenant insolvency.

The first step is always to establish the precise form of insolvency, whether the tenant is an Individual or corporate entity: this will determine the steps that can and, importantly, cannot be taken.

Inevitably, our advice will also extend to the ability to pursue other parties in place of the insolvent tenant: a former tenant, guarantor or, perhaps, a sub-tenant and whether or not a rent deposit is in place and may legitimately be drawn down upon.

A tenant’s insolvency will often severely inhibit the landlord’s potential remedies as the insolvency legislation recognises that other creditors, not simply the landlord, may be entitled to an appropriate share of what remains of the tenant’s assets.

We also act for insolvency practitioners, often in reviewing (and responding to) threatened litigation on behalf of landlords.

Torts (Interference with Goods) Act

The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 provides a procedure for landlords to deal with a former tenant’s goods that have been left at the landlord’s property without the landlord’s permission. We assist landlords in serving notice on the former tenant, effectively to give fair warning that the goods must be removed or are liable to be sold. Following the correct procedure is important to avoid claims from the tenant later on for wrongful interference.

Trusts of land (TOLATA)

The court has powers in relation to claims under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA 1996). This legislation is relevant when relationships break down with the court determining co-habitants rights in relation to property.

Trespass

Squatters are an unwelcome problem for both commercial and residential owners, often having little regard for the property or possessions within.

Speed of action is usually paramount.

We are experienced in expediting court applications against trespassers, minimising, so far as possible, their period of occupation.

Obviously, if police assistance can be used to move on the squatters, without the need for a court application, so much the better.

Vacant possession

Leases will usually contain a covenant compelling a tenant to give vacant possession, which will include leaving the premises empty of both people and chattels. Disputes can arise when this has arguably not occurred. One such instance is in the context of break rights, where a tenant’s right to end a lease early is conditional upon giving vacant possession. Accordingly, the outcome of such arguments can be crucial.

Yielding up

Generally, the test for yielding up is whether the tenant has manifested a clear intention to terminate the lease, and the landlord could occupy the property without difficulty or objection. Arguments in relation to yielding up often occur together with issues relating to vacant possession.