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Martin Creed is not kosher


The lights go on, the lights go off, the lights go on, the lights go off. Such was Martin Creed’s Turner Prize winning installation (and I will not hear a word against Creed – I warn you now, any objection will be met with a lengthy analysis of late modernism seen through the lens of the the utopian failure of early 19th century German Romanticism. You don’t want to risk that). However, lights going on and off are apparently at the root of a dispute between a leaseholder and the management company at Embassy Court in Bournemouth.

The problem was the installation of motion sensitive light controls in the common parts of the block of holiday apartments. Dr and Mrs Coleman, who leased an apartment in the block, objected to the fitting of these light systems. The Colemans are orthodox Jews, who observe the sabbath. One part of the ‘no work’ sabbath rules is switching on or off lights or other electrical switches. The Colemans were distressed to find themselves unable to leave their apartment without turning the lights on. The Colemans had offered to pay for an override switch so that the sabbath was free of lights going on and off, but this was rejected by the managment company.

Now, apparently, the Colemans are bringing proceedings under Equality Act 2006 and the HRA 1998, although they say they are happy to settle on agreement to install the override switch and costs.

The management firm (co-owned by the leaseholders) said, slightly bizarrely:

almost all residents supported the installation of the sensors and taking legal action was the Colemans’ “prerogative”.

The Colemans are apparently bullish about their chances. For myself, without knowing the details,  maybe rather less so. I can’t see how the HRA applies, for instance, unless it is an argument about the Court’s duty as public body, which seems like a stretch at this point.

It might be that the Colemans would have a better argument under the forthcoming Equality Bill. That said, although I am as secular as a secular thing in a material universe can be, and walk under black cats at every opportunity, I do feel a certain sympathy with the Colemans.

The no doubt well intentioned dictatorship of the majority in managment companies can result in  situations that are intensely difficult for individuals and it would be difficult to cast the Colemans’ solution as unreasonable. We’ll have to see if the Equality Bill might make a more clear cut rejoinder to situations like these.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.


  1. J

    More light is shed on the situation here:

    Given my love of all things leasehold, I was more interested to know if there had been compliance with s.20 LTA 1985 and whether this constituted a “repair” or an “improvement”.

    • NL

      You see what I did (or rather didn’t do) there? Being knackered and all, I missed out the link to the bloody story, even though it was sitting in the next browser tab for just that purpose. Now added.

      Good job somebody else reads this stuff,

      On the s.20, surely the Colemans aren’t fussed about having to pay for the auto lights, and I can’t think of a precedent offhand that would mean the works would have to be removed if the s.20 procedure hadn’t been followed. But it is a thought…

      • J

        Oh no, non-compliance with s.20 LTA 1985 never results in the works having to be removed. I was just thinking of other ways to cause trouble for the freeholder

  2. Marcin Tustin

    I think this is case where it is probably right that property rights should trump the desires of the Colemans to live a certain way – it’s not like there aren’t alternative places to live.

    I am interested to see if the courts will once again indulge in telling a claimant that their religious beliefs aren’t what they think they are – this is certainly a good case to invite that kind of comment, given that the passive presence of a person is difficult to characterise as work.

    • Francis Davey

      But what are the proprietary rights? We don’t know the details but presumably the lease grants a right to pass over the common parts to enter the demised premises. That right has now been interfered with by the freeholder. Surely there’s an argument for a claim for a breach of lease?

      Then you buttress that argument with the HRA of course.

      • Marcin

        Interesting point, and I hadn’t considered that. In that case, it looks even more likely that we’re likely to see a decisions based on “well other jews are fine with it.”

        I suppose the other main argument for the freeholder is that interference with access should be in some sense objective or foreseeable, but it’s not clear that that would assist them, given the actions of the claimants.

        I reckon that this one will end up with some sort of decision that it’s not a big interference with passage/access, that other jews don’t have this problem, and some weighing of the rights of the freeholder to not incur electricity bills. I hope to be surprised.

        • J

          I think it’s more likely that the poor (D)DJ hearing this case will adjourn it off for mediation!

        • Barrack Room Advice Services

          I think we should remember that the sabbath starts at sunset on a Friday so there may well be Health & Safety issues as well. The old fashioned push switch that put the light on for a limited time was always a problem for the elderly or disabled.

  3. T

    Nearly Legal do you really …walk under black cats at every opportunity…?

    Although this is a serious blog, as a cat lover I must protest. This is harassment of the cat and I will assist any cat, which seeks to sue you. It also sounds rather discriminatory; what about ginger cats – do you harass them too?

    • NL

      I take the view that black cats have chosen to become symbolically significant and actively delight in their superstitious meaningfulness. They have therefore brought it upon themselves.

      Ginger cats are entirely without symbolic resonance and are safe for that reason.

      • J

        And of course, NL is only an inch and half tall, thus facilitating the cat-limbo

  4. chief

    I don’t think that the current Bill would make much difference. Although clauses 31-33 do use some different wording and seem to expand on the existing provisions I can’t see that it would add anything to section 47 of the 2006 Act in this situation. I can’t see the added value in the HRA claim either.

    On the more important topic of ginger and black cats, I live with one of each and can report that the local bird, mouse and frog populations probably do not think that either of them have particular symbolic resonance – they’re just evil.



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