Michael Owen and Clive Adams analyse the latest housing law judgments from the High Court and highlight two recent reports from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
Keshwala and another v Bhalsod and another  EWHC 2372 (QB)
High Court, 4 September 2020
The High Court has held that a County Court had been wrong to refuse an application for relief against forfeiture on the basis of delay when the tenants had brought their application within the statutory six-month limit.
The tenants leased a shop that included living accommodation above it. The tenants planned to open a hairdressing business in the property and paid significant sums of money to refurbish the premises in 2018. One of the tenants, entrusted to pay the rent by the other, mistakenly paid £500 less in rent in June 2018. An invoice for rent from the landlord's property agents in September 2018 made no reference to the outstanding £500 but, later that month, the landlord effected forfeiture by re-entry pursuant to the terms of the lease using the services of bailiffs. The second tenant then became aware that there had been a shortfall in the rent and that there had been a re-entry. He arranged for the prompt payment of the outstanding £500. In February 2019, the landlord re-let the commercial and residential parts of the property in separate leases and the tenants issued a claim for relief from forfeiture. However, the County Court refused to grant relief due to the tenants' delay in making their application. The tenants appealed.
The High Court, in allowing the appeal, held that an application for relief that is brought within six months is to be taken as having been brought with “reasonable promptitude”. A delay within the six month limit did not amount to the kind of “exceptional circumstances” that was necessary for a landlord to show when asking the Court to refuse relief. It is important to point out that this decision does not apply to possession recovered from Assured tenants.
Ioannou v Werner
High Court, 1 September 2020
The High Court has granted a stay of execution of a possession order, prior to a permission to appeal application, due to concerns that the defendant may have suffered an injustice and been made homeless.
Following the launch of possession proceedings, the defendant was ordered by the Court to give up possession of his property. The Court had found the defendant to have been dishonest, and permission to appeal and an application for a stay were refused as there was no prospect of success. The defendant subsequently applied for an oral hearing of a permission to appeal, which is due to be heard on 6 November. The issue to be decided was whether the Court should grant a stay until 6 November, meaning that possession would be delayed until that date.
The High Court, in granting the application to stay the possession order, held that the risk of injustice to the defendant in refusing the stay (i.e. that he would have nowhere to live) would be much greater than the risk of injustice to the claimant in granting the stay. The evidence presented to the Court suggested that the defendant might have alternative accommodation, but it was inconclusive.
This is an extempore (oral) decision so the transcript is not available yet.
Oliver v Shaikh  EWHC 2253 (QB)
High Court, 24 August 2020
The High Court has held that a man was in contempt after breaching an injunction against the harassment of a judge.
In December 2019, the High Court found Mr Shaikh responsible for posting abusive and harassing material directed at Mr Oliver on various websites. Mr Oliver was a judge who had previously given judgment against Mr Shaikh in unrelated proceedings in 2014. Most of the abuse was posted on the website “Judges Behaving Badly”, which the Court found was controlled by Mr Shaikh. The Court granted an injunction against Mr Shaikh, which required him to remove material from this and other websites.
In January 2020, Mr Oliver claimed that Mr Shaikh had breached the injunction by failing to remove the offending material on the websites and by publishing further material. Mr Shaikh denied responsibility for the further publications and claimed to have asked for the offending material to be taken down. The hearing took place in Mr Shaikh’s absence as the Court had received no valid reason for his non-attendance. However, in order to give Mr Shaikh an opportunity to comply in the face of a penalty, the Court decided to deal only with liability and to adjourn consideration of a penalty.
The High Court, in finding judgment for Mr Oliver, held that Mr Shaikh had substantially breached the injunction order. A separate hearing will consider the penalty to be imposed on Mr Shaikh.
Investigation into a complaint against London Borough of Haringey (reference number: 19 014 008)
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, 25 June 2020
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found that a local authority did not do enough to prevent a single mother and her family from becoming homeless.
A mother of six children, some of whom are disabled, had been living in privately rented accommodation when she was asked to leave.
She approached the London Borough of Haringey for housing assistance. Instead of helping the mother to find appropriate accommodation before she was evicted, the London Borough of Haringey asked her to remain at the property until the eviction date, despite a senior housing manager telling colleagues that this was not legally appropriate.
The London Borough of Haringey provided the family with bed and breakfast accommodation in a hotel before subsequently offering the mother two unsuitable properties – one was too far away from the family’s support network and would mean transferring her children’s care services, and the other was in a state of disrepair. The family consequently remained at the bed and breakfast accommodation.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that the London Borough of Haringey should have helped the mother when she first informed it that she was being made homeless, rather than waiting until the eviction date. The delay had caused distress and upheaval to the family, with the family having to move between hotels. The family received compensation of £1,500 from the London Borough of Haringey.
Investigation into a complaint against London Borough of Merton (reference number: 18 019 031)
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, 7 August 2020
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has ordered a local authority in London to compensate a man who was offered accommodation in another city, forcing him to give up one of his jobs.
A man approached the London Borough of Merton for housing assistance when he became homeless. He was placed in temporary privately rented accommodation in Birmingham, meaning that he had to give up one of his jobs as he was unable to travel back to London for work. He complained that the London Borough of Merton had placed him in this accommodation in order to discharge its housing duty towards him, and had failed to take into account his personal circumstances when reaching its decision. The man claimed that he had told housing officers that he was working, but the London Borough of Merton said that it had no record of this.
An investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that the London Borough of Merton did not take into account the man’s employment status and found evidence that he had informed it that he was having difficulties maintaining his employment, but that it had failed to consider moving him closer to London. The man received compensation of £1,768 from the London Borough of Merton.