Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust Limited v Richens (2020) EWHC 685 (Ch)
An appeal of judgment in a possession claim where the status of the occupant was in issue. Mr Richens occupied VAHT’s property. The property had been owned by Aylesbury BC, at which time the tenant was Mr R’s grandfather. There had been a stock transfer in 2006. Mr R’s grandfather died in March 2017 and a year later VAHT brought possession proceedings on Ground 7.
Mr R asserted that in 2007, VAHT had drafted an assured tenancy agreement. Initially this was in the grandfather’s name only, but a housing officer had visited and agreed to a joint tenancy for the grandfather, Mr R and his brother. In support of this he exhibited a tenancy agreement he had retained in which his and his brother’s names had been added in manuscript and which all three had signed. It was not signed by VAHT.
VAHT contended that there was documentary evidence which suggested that the tenancy agreement retained by Mr Richens had been returned because it had not been signed by Mr Townsend alone and a second tenancy, which was in Mr Townsend’s sole name, was evidence of the true relationship. VAHT was, however, unable to call upon any of its officers with knowledge of the events.
At first instance, the circuit judge held that Mr R was a truthful witness, that the meeting with the housing officer had taken place, as had the offer albeit possibly as a mistake, and dismissed the possession claim. VAHT appealed.
The High Court did not allow the appeal. Appeals against findings of fact faced a high threshold.
These are powerful factors which a judge could reasonably have taken into account in order to reject the case advanced by Mr Richens. That is not the question on an appeal however. Whether I (or any other judge) might reasonably have reached a different conclusion is irrelevant. What matters is whether on the basis of the totality of these factors the judge’s conclusion was one which no judge could reasonably have reached. It is important to bear in mind that the judge had the benefit of being immersed in the oral and written evidence over a period of days. This is one of the principal reasons for the high hurdle in an appeal against findings of fact. This is of particular importance in relation to the central question whether any meeting took place at all where (for the reasons I have given above) the judge’s conclusion that a finding that it did not happen logically meant the defence witnesses were all lying. Many of the factors relied on by Mr Manning go to that issue.
In the end, I have concluded that the judge’s central findings of fact were within the range of possible conclusions that a reasonable judge could have reached.
On VAHT’s argument that the first instance judge was wrong in law to accept that the housing officer could bind VAHT, this had not been put at first instance.