Delaying the Not-So-Inevitable

Article

24 October, 2012

Case Report: Southend-on-Sea BC v Armour, High Court (unreported), 18/10/2012

Adjournments are a common source of frustration for social landlords. They often cause additional suffering to the neighbours of anti social tenants, as well as escalating legal costs. The High Court has now confirmed that they can also lead to the complete collapse of an otherwise sound case for possession.

Mr Armour was an introductory tenant of Southend-on-Sea, and lived with his 14 year old daughter. It was alleged that he had verbally abused a neighbour, an employee of the managing agents, and some electrical contractors. It had also been alleged that Mr Armour had switched on the electricity while contractors were working and one suffered an electric shock.

The Council sought possession, but the matter was delayed by 11 months due to two adjournments. By the time the possession hearing was able to proceed, the recorder heard evidence from a probation officer and a youth worker as to Mr Armour's improved behaviour, and medical evidence as to the probable effect of eviction on his mental and physical health.

The recorder concluded that the original decision to seek possession had been appropriate, proportionate and lawful, but that by the date of the judgment it was no longer proportionate for a possession order to be made because Mr Armour had complied with the terms of the tenancy for nearly a year.

On appeal, the High Court upheld the recorder's decision. The Court found that proportionality reviews should be considered on the evidence available at the date of the hearing, not the date of issue. Subsequent behaviour - whether good or bad - was relevant to the proportionality review. The claim for possession was dismissed and Mr Armour ended up with a secure tenancy.

What are the lessons to learn from this?

  • Social landlords and their advocates should make every effort to avoid adjournments and be fully prepared for the initial hearing;
  • Where adjournments are necessary, it is imperative to continue to gather and submit evidence of continued breaches of tenancy to demonstrate the ongoing proportionality of seeking possession;
  • Consideration should be given to seeking an interim ASB injunction if the possession case is likely to drag on and protection is needed for neighbours in the meantime;
  • Where a tenant has "turned a corner" and behaviour has significantly improved, social landlords should try to withdraw from proceedings on the most favourable terms, including requesting undertakings and no order as to costs.

For further advice and guidance on proportionality and anti social behaviour, contact Forbes Solicitors' specialist Housing Litigation team on 01772 220022.

Back

Make an enquiry