With grateful thanks to Housing: Recent Developments in March 2018 Legal Action comes this report of a county court case for unlawful eviction. What makes it slightly unusual is that the perpetrator landlord was a council.
Lutman v Ashford BC, County Court at Canterbury, 5 October 2017
From 2011, Mrs Lutman was the secure tenant of Ashford BC. Her husband also lived at the property.
Mrs L was admitted to hospital with dementia in late 2012. Mr L continued to reside at the property.
In February 2013, Mr L was sentenced to 18 months in prison, with a release date of 12 November 2013. During the period of imprisonment, Mrs L left hospital for respite care in a residential home. Meanwhile the rent and bills were paid from a joint account.
Then things went badly wrong…
In early October 2013, Ashford BC sent an officer to give Mrs L a notice to quit to sign – Mrs L printed her name in capital letters. The officer later said ‘it would not be correct to say that she understood the notice’.
Also in early October 2013, Ashford BC served a Notice to Quit on Mrs L, expiring 4 November 2013.
On his release on 12 November 2013, Mr L found that the locks on the property had been changed.
Ashford BC had never taken possession proceedings. They asserted that they had taken possession because Mrs L ‘had ceased to occupy’ the property and Mr L was in prison at the time.
Mr L claimed damages for unlawful eviction and for belongings never returned to him.
At this point, most housing lawyers would either be gleefully advancing the claim, or if acting for the landlord, wincing and advising reaching for the chequebook. Not so Ashford BC, who defended to trial.
The Circuit Judge found:
Mrs L’s notice was invalid as she clearly lacked capacity at the time. She did not even hand over the keys to effect a surrender, but would not have known what she was doing even if she had. Ashford BC were aware at the time of her lack of capacity.
Mrs L was not capable of making decisions about her residence, so it could not be said she had the intention to cease to reside and not return. Her return, though unlikely, could not be ruled out. She remained a secure tenant when the locks were changed by Ashford BC. Rent was paid and accepted until December 2013, after the change of locks.
In addition, continued occupation by Mr L would preserve her tenancy. He was in prison, but the property remained his primary residence.
Damages under s.27 and s.28 Housing Act 1988 – the difference in value between the property between vacant possession and Mr L’s continued right to occupy – were assessed at £40,575. Special damages of £1,000 in respect of lost belongings also awarded. And (I presume) costs to Mr L.
I can’t even…