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Recent Housing Law cases

Below are details of the latest case law in Housing – if you have any queries about how these impact you or your clients, please contact Carl Wright or Nicola Ford.

R (Best) v Chief Land Registrar: May 2014 

The High Court has held that a squatter in a residential property can acquire title to it through adverse possession even though squatting in residential property is now a criminal offence under s.144, Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

The claimant was a builder. He discovered that a house next door to a property he was working on had been unoccupied after the owner’s death. He carried out extensive works to the house and, in 2012, he moved into it. He applied to the Land Registry to become the registered owner pursuant to the Land Registration Act 2002 claiming to have been in adverse possession for over ten years.

On 1 September 2012, The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force, which made squatting in a residential building a criminal offence.

The Land Registrar rejected the claimant’s application, finding that he could not rely on any period of adverse possession occurring after the Act had come into force.

The claimant successfully challenged the Registrar’s decision by way of judicial review proceedings. The issue was greater than whether a person should benefit from a criminal act. Here, there was a strong countervailing public interest in recognising title where adverse possession had long continued without objection from the registered owner.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council v Armour: March, 2014

The Court of Appeal has upheld a decision of the county court dismissing a claim for possession against an introductory tenant on the basis that evicting him would be a disproportionate interference with his right to respect for his home under Art.8, European Convention on Human Rights. The county court had been entitled to take into account the fact that, by the time of the trial, there had been no complaints about the tenant’s behaviour for nearly a year.

In January 2011, the claimant authority granted the defendant an introductory tenancy of a property, in which he lived in with his daughter. Shortly after the commencement of the tenancy, it was alleged that he had verbally abused a neighbour, contractors and employees of the authority. The authority served with a notice of possession proceedings. In April 2011, the decision to seek possession was upheld at a review hearing. In June 2011, the authority issued possession proceedings. The trial took place on 2 March 2012. During the intervening period, the defendant was diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome and as suffering from depression, which were identified as having been present since birth. Further, after the authority’s decision to commence proceedings, it had come to light that he did not have the capacity to defend the claim. There had been no further incidents of anti-social behaviour after the review.

County Court
The Recorder found that it had been proportionate and lawful to issue possession proceedings but that it would be disproportionate to grant a possession order, having regard to the length of time which had elapsed without complaints and the effect that eviction would have on the defendant. The authority appealed to the High Court.

High Court 
The High Court dismissed the appeal. The court held that the Recorder had been entitled to consider the subsequent good behaviour of the tenant as a relevant consideration. There was no error in her approach. The authority appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal dismissed the second appeal holding that the question to be determined was not whether the court would have reached the same decision as the Recorder but whether the decision was one that had been open to her. Given that the point of an introductory tenancy is to test the tenant’s behaviour to see if he can be a responsible tenant, it followed that an improvement in behaviour was relevant to whether it was proportionate for an authority to continue to seek possession.

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