24 November, 2014
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court handed down their judgment in the case of Sims v Dacorum Borough Council. In this case, a human rights challenge to the rule that one periodic tenant can end a joint tenancy by serving a notice to quit on their landlord was dismissed.
The challenge by Mr Sims' concerned the common law rule that, in the absence of any tenancy terms to the contrary, the service of a valid notice to quit by one joint tenancy will end the joint tenancy on behalf of all the tenants. This rule applies even where the remaining tenants do not agree to the notice or even where they have no knowledge of the notice. This common law rule was affirmed in an earlier case of Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council v Monk . However, Mr Sims argued that this case should be re-visited since it was decided prior to the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Background of the Case
In the case of Sims v Dacorum Borough Council, the Council had granted Mr and Mrs Sims an introductory tenancy of a three bedroom house in 2002. After a period of 12 months, the tenancy converted into a secure periodic tenancy and the couple lived in the property until 2010 with their four children. Around this time, the couple's marriage broke down and Mrs Sims left the property with her two youngest children. Mrs Sims sought accommodation from a neighbouring local authority but they would not grant her a tenancy until she ended her tenancy with Dacorum Borough Council.
After seeking advice in respect of her available options, Mrs Sims served notice to quit on Dacorum Borough Council in June 2010, ending the joint tenancy the following month. Prior to issuing possession proceedings, Dacorum Borough Council considered Mr Sims' request to remain in the property, in accordance with the terms of the tenancy agreement, but declined to allow Mr Sims to remain in property. By the time the matter reached trial, Dacorum Borough Council had reconsidered their decision to seek possession of the property on two more occasions, but still upheld their original decision. At the trial at Watford County Court, the Deputy District Judge held that she was bound by the rule set out in the case of Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council v Monk and that notice served by one joint tenant would end the joint tenancy, and that Dacorum Borough Council's careful decision making process amply accorded with Mr Sims' Article 8 right to a family home. The Deputy District Judge concluded that it was lawful and proportionate to make a possession order and an outright possession order was made.
Mr Sims appealed to the Court of Appeal, and the only ground which he relied on was that the decision in Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council v Monk was incompatible with his Article 8 rights, and that the court should change the common law so that it was compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. The Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal, citing that they were bound by the decision made by the Supreme Court in Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council v Monk. Mr Sims then pursued his appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court Decision
On the 12 November 2014, the Supreme Court handed down its unanimous judgment, rejecting Mr Sims' appeal. The judgment contained the following brief analysis of their decision:
The terms of the tenancy agreement reflected a long-standing, common law principle concerning the effect of a notice to quit; and the Deputy District Judge at Watford County Court had found Dacorum Borough Council's consideration of Mr Sims' position to have been reasonable.
As for the Article 8 argument, the Supreme Court accepted the submission from Dacorum Borough Council, that where the court is considering making an order for possession against a public sector residential tenant, he or she must have the opportunity of raising the argument that, in the light of Article 8, no order for possession should be made. Article 8 did not require anything further. In this case, this had been done at County Court level and there was no related challenge on appeal.
This judgment will be a comfort to many social landlords, where the ability of one joint tenant to end the joint tenancy is an important way of securing flexibility and fairness in allocating scarce social housing resources. By undertaking an exercise to consider Mr Sims' individual rights against the pressure to ensure efficient management of scarce social housing resources on three occasions, Dacorum Borough Council were able to satisfy both Watford County Court and the Supreme Court that it was proportionate to make a possession order in the circumstances.
For further information, contact Bethany Paliga by email or on 01772 220241.