22 December, 2014
The Supreme Court has recently upheld a decision of the County Court, awarding the Claimant £90,500 in damages for unlawful eviction after a London Borough Council wrongly repossessed and re-let the tenant's property.
In the case of Loveridge v London Borough of Lambeth, Mr Loveridge made a claim for damages for unlawful eviction against his previous landlord, the London Borough of Lambeth. Mr Loveridge had lived in a downstairs flat in a two-storey house, let by the council under a secure tenancy since 2002. From July until November 2009, Mr Loveridge made a trip to Ghana. Whilst on this trip, the council mistakenly believed that Mr Loveridge had died. The council then proceeded to change the locks and disposed of Mr Loveridge's belongings. The flat was subsequently re-let and Mr Loveridge brought a claim for damages against the council.
The County Court found that Mr Loveridge had been unlawfully evicted and awarded him damages of £90,500 under section 28 Housing Act 1988 and £9,000 at common law in damages for the trespass to his belongings.
The Council subsequently appealed against the amount of damages awarded to Mr Loveridge. The Court of Appeal set aside the decision of the County Court and awarded Mr Loveridge £7,400 for damages for unlawful eviction and £9,000 in damages for trespass to his belongings.
The case was appealed again and the matter went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the original County Court decision and restored the previous order for damages of £90,500.
Section 27 Housing Act 1988 creates a right to damages for unlawful eviction, where the landlord 'unlawfully deprives the residential occupier of any premises of his occupation of the whole or the part of the premises'. Section 28 provides that the basis for damages is the difference, at the time immediately before the residential occupier left the premises, between the vale of the landlord's intern with, and the value of the landlord's interest without, the residential occupier in occupation.
In calculating the damages, Mr Loveridge's surveyor calculated valuation A on the basis that the property was sold with both the upstairs and downstairs flats subject to secure tenancies. The surveyor calculated valuation B on the basis that the property was sold with vacant possession of the downstairs flat but with the upstairs flat subject to a secure tenancy. The difference in value was £90,500. This was the valuation applied by the County Court.
However, in upholding the decision of the County Court, the Supreme Court commented that "Parliament might wish to revisit the application of section 27, and therefore of section 28, of the 1988 Act to unlawful evictions on the part of local authorities. No doubt all reasonable means of dissuading them from making unlawful evictions, whether by misjudgment or otherwise, should be in place. But the facts are that Lambeth did not realise a capital gain, and never aspired to realise a capital gain, as a result of its eviction of Mr Loveridge; and that its intention was always to re-let the flat and that, once it did so, even its notional gain was eliminated. In such circumstances it seems wrong that, by reference to a calculation of its notional gain, the law should require payment to Mr Loveridge out of public funds in an amount which is 12 times greater than that of his loss." However, until Parliament does revisit the application of section 27 and 28 of the Housing Act 1988, there is the possibility of an unlawfully evicted tenant securing substantial damages and the case highlights the risk associated with taking back possession of properties which are suspected of being abandoned without a Court order.
For further information, please contact Bethany Paliga by email or on 01772 220241.