17 January, 2019
Forbes' ASB team were victorious in the County Court this week with our Housing Association client being granted an outright Possession Order and its legal costs by a High Court Judge, following a fully contested Trial.
The Defendant tenant had been causing persistent anti-social behaviour since as early as 2013, which included frequent screaming, shouting and abusive conduct towards other residents on the scheme on which she was living. There were also lower level, nuisance breaches, which included heavy littering, the throwing and abandoning of rubbish and discarded furniture and obstructive parking.
Prior to issuing the possession claim, the landlord had taken steps to try and resolve the issues, providing numerous warnings and ultimately pursuing injunction proceedings in which an Undertaking was given, but subsequently disregarded, by the tenant.
The possession claim raised 79 separate allegations of anti-social behaviour, 40 of which had arisen after the Undertaking was in force.
The Defence admitted to some of the lower level behaviour, but denied anti-social behaviour generally and attempted to raise a defence under the Equality Act, arguing that the behaviour was being caused by the tenant's mental health. The Defence failed to provide any independent medical evidence in support of this claim besides letters from the tenant's GP. These letters stated the existence of less acute health conditions already known to the landlord, the typical symptoms of which would not cause the behaviour alleged.
The Defence itself was described as 'brief in the extreme,' and so too was the tenant's own witness statement.
By contrast, our client's evidence was robust, with evidence being given by 5 live witnesses. On the evidence, the Judge found that all 79 allegations were made out and that Grounds 12 and 14 of the Housing Act 1988 were met.
The Judge also found that it was reasonable to make a Possession Order based upon the number and gravity of allegations, the long period of time over which they had taken place, the nature of the housing scheme being such as to require all tenants be considerate towards one another, the amount of opportunities the tenant had had to deal with her behaviour previously, but had failed to do so, and the fact that despite the issue of the possession claim, the behaviour had not improved.
In giving Judgment, the Judge referred to the detrimental effect of the behaviour on other residents in the scheme and the landlord's resources, as well as the tenant's aggressive and combative attitude towards the complaints and the proceedings, which was presented in her live cross-examination. The Judge highlighted that he had found from the evidence that some of the behaviour was in fact deliberate and malicious, aggravating the conduct.
On the final issue as to whether to suspend the Order, the Judge again referred to the limited evidence available from the tenant, that might persuade him of any future improvement. The Judge stated that the history of the case was a strong indicator of what the future would hold and in this case, that history showed a consistent approach of the tenant being difficult with the Landlord and her neighbours. Appearing in court, the tenant had been defensive, aggressive and was not prepared to accept some of her actions, instead blaming others. A suspended order would therefore inevitably fail and an outright order was appropriate.
Concluding his Judgment, the Judge dismissed the Equality Act defence. There was firstly no evidence to support any medical disability, nor there being any causal link between conditions evidenced by GP letters and the behaviour of the tenant. In any event, the Judge relied upon the Equality Act Review the landlord had completed prior to the proceedings, stating that the landlord's objectives, including protecting other tenants from the behaviour, were being legitimately pursued by the possession case, and that it was no more than necessary to achieve that objective given the significant chances the tenant had had before to improve her behaviour.
The outcome is a significant victory for our client and the neighbours affected by and living with the ongoing behaviour, who had to patiently wait out the natural period of time it takes to conclude a case at a contested trial. The success demonstrates that such persistent contempt of the rules cannot and will not be tolerated by our client, and will be met with robust legal action being taken in response.
For more information contact Amy Chadwick in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 0113 386 2694. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.