Social landlords have a myriad of considerations to balance when they want to take possession proceedings.
The recent Court of Appeal judgment in Worthington (1) and Parkin (2) v Metropolitan Housing Trust Ltd places registered providers at further risk of both reputational and financial consequences if they fail to properly analyse the evidence leading to possession proceedings.
Registered providers will have become accustomed to the need to consider proportionality when deciding on the nature of enforcement action to be taken for an alleged breach of tenancy. It is vital that landlords can evidence the basis upon which the decision to take action has been based and that it has been robustly tested.
The Metropolitan case related to the handling of complaints received about two of the registered provider’s tenants. In this case Ms Parkin had been given permission to use CCTV at her premises after being the victim of ASB and Mr Parkin ran a local residents group and published information about what he believed to be unacceptable behaviour in the neighbourhood on the group website.
Neighbours took exception to the actions of these particular tenants, alleging that they were photographing children and had exhibited inappropriate behaviour. A petition and “statements” followed and Ms Parkin and Mr Worthington were threatened with Court action and possibly injunctions if, among other things, the CCTV cameras (for which permission had been given at another address and was impliedly extended to Ms Parkin’s home when she moved) were taken down.
In fact, there was no evidence that photographs had been taken and, despite the fact that he did not have CCTV, Mr Worthington was warned against using it. There was no evidence of wrongdoing and no police evidence in support.
Ms Parkin and Mr Worthington issued proceedings under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and were awarded damages totalling over £8,000. The trial Judge referred to one of Metropolitan’s officers as having taken a “flawed and hopelessly careless approach”.
Metropolitan appealed but the Court of Appeal upheld the decision finding that the correspondence sent to Ms Parkin and Mr Worthington amounted to a course of conduct that amounted to harassment and that the tone of such correspondence had been “oppressive and unacceptable”.
This decision has the potential to give tenants who consider they have been wrongly singled out for warnings or Court action to bring a claim for harassment against their landlord.
What will be key is evidence of actual wrongdoing and clear lines of reporting to show that decisions made have been carefully tested and approved. A robust challenge to the evidence presented before it is actioned will be necessary to ensure that the issue of warning letters or proceedings only occurs where the landlord is satisfied – and can show – that there is genuine reason to consider the terms of the tenancy have been breached.
Internal procedures for reporting tenancy breaches and agreeing action plans should be reviewed to ensure that evidence is analysed and a record of decision making is kept. This allows for proposed steps to be tested for proportionality.
If you need any advice contact our Specialist Team on 0800 088 6004.