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Housing case law update - May 2020

Michael Owen, Helen Gascoigne and Tom Bradbury round up the latest rulings from the High Court and the Supreme Court.

R (Mohamed and another) v London Borough of Waltham Forest [2020] EWHC 1083

High Court, 7 May 2020

The High Court has held that landlords who control or manage unlicensed HMOs that require a licence may be committing an offence under the Housing Act 2004.

In this case, properties owned by the claimant landlords were subject to inspections by London Borough of Waltham Forest. During the inspection, it was discovered that one of the properties was let out as a house in multiple occupation (HMO), but it was not licensed as such. Consequently, London Borough of Waltham Forest alleged that offences had been committed under section 72 of the Housing Act 2004 and the claimant landlords were invited to an interview under caution. The landlords issued claims for judicial review, challenging (1) the decision by the Council to invite the landlords to interview, and (2) the lawfulness of summonses issued.

The High Court held that (1) London Borough of Waltham Forest had provided sufficient information to the Magistrates’ Court to justify the issuing of the summons; (2) the information was laid in time; and (3) to establish that an offence had been committed under section 72(1) of the Housing Act 2004, there was no need to prove that the landlord knew that the property they controlled or managed was an HMO.

The ruling will be welcomed by local authorities that want to enforce HMO offences under the Housing Act 2004.

A copy of the judgment is here.

Duval v 11-13 Randolph Crescent Ltd [2020] UKSC 18

Supreme Court, 6 May 2020

The Supreme Court has held that the landlord of a block of flats was not able to license works in breach of an absolute covenant, without the agreement of all the other tenants.

A lessee (Mrs Winfield) requested consent to carry out works to her flat which involved removing a substantial part of a load bearing wall at basement level (which was prohibited under the lease). Another lessee, Dr Duval, objected to the proposed works. The landlord (11-13 Randolph Crescent) decided to grant a licence, subject to insurance being obtained. Dr Duval then issued proceedings against 11-13 Randolph Crescent, arguing that it was not allowed to permit a breach of the lease. The Court of Appeal found in Dr Duval’s favour, so the decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in dismissing the appeal, held that the works went beyond the routine alterations and improvements envisaged by the lease, and consequently the other tenants had to provide their consent. The clause in question was an absolute covenant and 11-13 Randolph Crescent had to enforce it as an absolute covenant; it had no right to unilaterally vary or modify the clause. By granting a license to carry out alterations, 11-13 Randolph Crescent had breached its obligation to enforce the lease covenants at the request of another tenant in the block.

A copy of the judgment is here.

R (on the application of Escott) v Chichester District Council

High Court, 5 May 2020

The High Court has held that a local authority had acted reasonably and lawfully in its offer of unfurnished accommodation to a homeless man.

The Claimant (Mr Escott) had been a member of the traveller community, and had issues with mental health and substance abuse. Due to his admittance to hospital, where he contracted sepsis and aspirational pneumonia, and the subsequent Coronavirus pandemic, Chichester District Council offered Mr Escott shared hostel-style accommodation. However, Mr Escott sought a review of the decision, seeking self-contained accommodation as his medical history made him extremely vulnerable to coronavirus. Chichester District Council offered him an unfurnished self-contained flat, which contained a microwave and a mattress. Mr Escott accepted the offer, but then requested furniture and white goods, arguing that he was unable to stay indoors if he had no cooking or food storage facilities.

The High Court dismissed Mr Escott’s claim for interim relief. It held that Chichester District Council’s main duty had been to provide accommodation and that it could only offer what was available at the time. It had not acted unlawfully in failing to provide a cooker; after all, the microwave enabled Mr Escott to cook food. Also, it held that Mr Escott had unreasonably rejected an offered fridge because he would have had to disinfect it himself. It concluded that Chichester District Council had acted reasonably within the tight time constraints.

This is an extempore (oral) decision, so the transcript is not yet available.

R (Idolo) v London Borough of Bromley [2020] EWHC 860 (Admin)

High Court, 8 April 2020

The High Court has held that a local authority had not breached its legal duty when allocating suitable accommodation.

The Claimant (Mr Idolo) lived with his wife and young daughter in a council flat on the eighth floor. He was admitted to hospital and, whilst there, became paralysed from the waist down. After a medical assessment, Mr Idolo was declared substantially bed-bound by his local authority, London Borough of Bromley. A care plan was prepared and it was agreed that he needed a new home with three bedrooms, wheelchair accessibility and other adaptations to meet his care needs. Mr Idolo was placed on the housing register in a high priority band and, after a period of one year, was provided with the required accommodation. However, Mr Idolo claimed that London Borough of Bromley had failed in its legal duties towards him, alleging an unlawful delay in rehousing him.

The High Court dismissed the application for declaratory relief and damages, finding that there had not been an unlawful delay in rehousing Mr Idolo. It found that there was no evidence of suitable available properties which could have been allocated to him sooner, and that London Borough of Bromley had not disrespected his rights.

The decision will be welcomed by local authorities, as it recognised the difficult demands (and hard choices) they face in providing social housing.

A copy of the judgment is here.

Piechnik v Oxford City Council [2020] EWHC 960 (QB)

High Court, 27 April 2020

The High Court has held that local authority landlords have an implied right of access to their secure tenants’ homes to make improvements – but this right does not extend to their right-to-buy long leases.

A tenant (Dr Piechnik) was a long leasehold owner of a property within a residential block, which had been purchased under right-to-buy. The lease contained provisions allowing for service charges, quiet enjoyment and the landlord's covenant to maintain the building. Under the lease, the Landlord (Oxford City Council) was permitted to enter the premises to repair any part of the building, provided notice was given. Oxford City Council wanted to carry out works to the residential block and sought to recover some of the costs through the service charge.

The First-tier Tribunal (Lands Chamber) held that a substantial part of the works were improvements and could not be classified as works of repair or maintenance, and therefore were not recoverable as service charges. Consequently, Dr Piechnik refused to grant contractors access to his property – he argued that they had no right of entry under his lease to carry out works of improvement, as access could only be granted for repairs or maintenance. He also claimed that Oxford City Council had no right to enter his premises to carry out the works as it contravened his right of quiet enjoyment.

Oxford City Council sought an access injunction, which was compromised to allow the contractors to carry out works. After the completion of the works, Dr Piechnik sought an injunction requiring the landlord to remove all of the upgrades, which had imposed additional burdens on Dr Piechnik. The County Court held that the lease entitled Oxford City Council to enter the premises for the purposes of carrying out works of improvement. Dr Piechnik appealed.

The High Court, in allowing the appeal in part, held that Oxford City Council had a right of entry to the premises for the purposes stated, and this could be done without breaching the quiet enjoyment covenant. However, it also held that there was no mechanism for Oxford City Council to import the extended right of entry into right-to-buy long leases.

The ruling is a warning to local authority landlords that they must consider what works they are entitled to carry out in mixed-tenure residential blocks. Whilst they are able enter their secure tenants’ premises to carry out repairs or improvements, they cannot rely on that implied right to carry out the same works in the homes of their private lessees who occupy under right-to-buy leases, even if they are intended to improve the health and safety of residents.

A copy of the judgment is here.

R (on the application of McKeown) v Islington London Borough Council [2020] EWHC 779 (Admin)

High Court, 2 April 2020

The High Court has held that a local authority could not refuse a secure tenant's application for a disabled facilities grant simply because the property was deemed unsuitable for the tenant.

The claimant (Mrs McKeown) was wheelchair-dependent and a secure tenant of a garden maisonette owned by Islington London Borough Council. Although several adaptations had been made to the maisonette, Mrs McKeown was unable to access or exit her home without being carried up and down the steps by her sons. She consequently applied for a grant to finance a platform lift from her front garden to street level. However, Islington London Borough Council refused, stating that the maisonette was unsuitable for her needs and installing a platform lift was therefore not reasonable or appropriate under the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996. It offered to move Mrs McKeown to a more suitable property, but she argued that the maisonette was close to her friends and family. She brought a claim for judicial review of the decision not to approve her application for a disabled facilities grant.

The High Court, in allowing the application, held that Islington London Borough Council should not have considered whether the maisonette was suitable for a disabled person. The platform lift was the only means of enabling Mrs McKeown to access and exit her home. The fact that the maisonette property was unsuitable for Mrs McKeown did not mean that the lift would not meet her needs and was not a reason to refuse the disabled facilities grant.

A copy of the judgment is here.

Michael Owen is a partner, Helen Gascoigne is an associate and Tom Bradbury is a solicitor at Capsticks. Michael can be reached on 01962 678 376 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Helen can be contacted on 01962 678 398 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Tom can be reached on 01257 448 143 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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