Housing Law Bulletin - Issue 337 - 16 December 2013

Monday 16 December 2013

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YOUR EDITOR: Garden Court Chambers is proud to announce that the current Editor of this Bulletin, Jan Luba QC, has been included in the new list of the Top 100 QCs published last week. For more details, click here. He has additionally been included in the new list of the UK's Best Lawyers. For details, click here.

Housing Law News

Housing Possession Cases: on 13 December 2013 the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) called on the Government to think again about the abolition of legal aid for 'borderline' housing possession cases. Its report showed that only 41 such cases had been funded in 2011/12 and that the case for savings from scrapping the category had not been made out. For the JCHR report, click here.

Rent arrears (1): on 12 December 2013 the Money Advice Trust reported that from January to October 2013, the free advice helpline National Debtline received nearly 20,000 calls for help from people with rent arrears, compared with just 8,000 over the same period in 2007 - an increase of 146%. Calls from people with rent arrears have increased 37% over the last two years, and 13% in the last 12 months - more than any other debt type. For the details, click here.

Rent arrears (2): a new survey of social landlords has shown that the number of eviction warning notices (notices seeking possession) issued to their tenants because of rent arrears has increased by more than a quarter in a year. For the details, click here.

Homelessness: the House of Commons Library has produced updates of its briefing notes on a range of homelessness issues. For a copy of Rough Sleeping, click here. For a copy of Homelessness in England, click here. For a copy of Homeless households in temporary accommodation (England), click here. For a copy of Homelessness: Social Indicators page, click here.

Private renting (1): on 6 December 2013 Environmental Health News reported that an investigation had revealed that the 12 English local authorities with selective licensing regimes have prosecuted 216 landlords for failing to obtain a licence and 29 landlords for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and hazard offences. For the details, click here.

Private renting (2): the CIH in Scotland has produced a new briefing aimed primarily at landlords, letting agents and other housing professionals who work closely with the private rented sector. For a copy of Spotlight on the private rented sector, click here.

Housing and discrimination: a new report by UNISON has found that among the main effects of austerity on LGBT people were problems finding accommodation where they could feel safe and that was LGBT-friendly. For a copy of the report, click here.

Council Housing: on 9 December 2013 the National Federation of ALMOs published a new report outlining the case for a government review into restrictions on public sector borrowing which are preventing councils from investing in new housing stock. For a copy of the report, click here. The House of Commons Library has produced a useful briefing note on Local housing authorities - the self-financing regime: progress and issues. For a copy, click here.

Housing market: for the most recent assessment of likely movements in rents and house prices to 2020 see the latest Home Truths report from the National Housing Federation. For a copy, click here.

Updates on Housing Law: for daily housing law news and updates follow the editor of this Bulletin (Jan Luba QC) on Twitter @JanLubaQC

The Latest Housing Case Law

Fuller digests of most of the cases noted each week in this Bulletin appear in an online, indexed and searchable database edited by Jan Luba QC and called the Case Law Digest. For details of that service, click here.

Tachie, Terera and Il v Welwyn Hatfield BC [2013] EWHC 3972 (QB)
13 December 2013

Three individuals made separate homelessness applications to the council. On review, it decided that the first two had become homeless intentionally and the third was not in priority need. They appealed, contending that their applications had wrongly been dealt with by an ALMO instead of by the council itself. The county court transferred the cases to the High Court. It held that the contracting-out to the ALMO had been invalid because the relevant resolution had been made by the cabinet rather than the full council. However, the claims failed because the council had later ratified the decision and there were no other legal errors made in the reviewing officers' decisions. For the judgment, click here.

Health & Safety Executive v Mahmood Khan
13 December 2013

A private landlady engaged the defendant to deal with the heating at a tenanted house. He was not a GasSafe engineer. He fitted a second-hand central heating boiler and left it in a dangerous state. A qualified gas engineer later found the boiler was 'immediately dangerous'. He capped it off, left a warning notice and told the tenant it needed to be repaired by a GasSafe registered engineer. The tenant informed the landlady and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) wrote to her repeating the engineer's advice. However, the defendant returned and reconnected the boiler but failed to rectify any of the defects. The HSE had already prosecuted the landlady. The defendant pleaded guilty to four offences under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. Sheffield Magistrates' Court imposed a suspended six-month sentence (six months per offence but to run concurrently) and ordered £600 costs. For details of the prosecution, click here.

Balog v Birmingham CC [2013] EWCA Civ 1582
12 December 2013

Mr Balog gave up his private rented accommodation in Margate and moved to live with a relative in Birmingham. He became homeless shortly afterwards. The council decided that he had become homeless intentionally for giving up the accommodation in Margate that would have been reasonable to occupy. On review, it decided that the accommodation had been 'affordable' having regard to his income and outgoings. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision. A judge had been wrong to declare it invalid for failure to cite passages of the Code of Guidance. The review letter contained sufficient reasons and its conclusion was not perverse. For the judgment, click here. For commentary on the decision, click here.

Viackiene v Tower Hamlets LBC [2013] EWCA Civ, noted on LAWTEL
11 December 2013

Ms Viackiene held a joint tenancy of private rented accommodation. She fell into arrears when the other tenant stopped contributing towards the rent. The landlord suggested that she consider a different joint tenant and offered to help her find one. She declined and was eventually evicted for rent arrears. The council decided that she had become homeless intentionally. That decision was upheld on review and in the country court. The Court of Appeal dismissed a second appeal. There had been no error of law. The reviewing officer had been entitled to decide that the homelessness had resulted from the failure to take up the landlord's offer.

JL Homes Ltd v Mortgage Express [2013] EWHC 3928 (Ch)
11 December 2013

The company owned six properties held on buy-to-let mortgages from the defendant lender. It sub-let them all to another company. On the basis of repayment arrears and breaches of then loan conditions, the lender appointed Law of Property Act receivers. They brought proceedings for possession and cleared most of the properties of their occupiers. The company brought a claim against the lender and the receivers asserting that the receivership had been wrongly constituted and seeking damages for loss of the rental income. The High Court struck out the claim as having no real prospect of success and as an abuse of process (in the light of earlier litigation involving the same parties). It declared the claims to be totally without merit. For the judgment, click here.

Francis v Brent LBC
9 December 2013

Ms Francis was a secure tenant. In 1991 that tenancy was ended by an outright possession order granted for rent arrears. The order was never enforced. Ms Francis was a 'tolerated trespasser'. In May 2005 she was decanted to temporary alternative accommodation while major works were undertaken at her home. She was granted a secure tenancy of the alternative accommodation under an agreement which also referred to her as the secure tenant of her former home. In 2010, when the works were complete, the council refused to allow her to return and let her former home to a new tenant. She sought a declaration that she still held the tenancy of the former home. A judge dismissed her claim but the Court of Appeal allowed her appeal and granted the declaration. The only proper construction of the May 2005 agreement was one which recognised her as the secure tenant of her former home. The Supreme Court has refused the council's application for permission to appeal.

Norseman Holdings Ltd v Warwick Court (Harold Hill) Management Co Ltd [2013] EWHC 3868 (QB)
4 December 2013

The management company brought a claim for unpaid service charges of £3,274 against NHL which held the lease of a flat in the block that it managed. The litigation spawned numerous hearings and subsidiary issues. NHL pursued an appeal against an undertaking (that its solicitor had given) which was recorded in the preamble to a case management order. The High Court dismissed the appeal. The judge said it had been "ludicrous and deplorable" to spend £27,217 on the costs of pursuing such an appeal which epitomised another "terrible waste of money" in the case. For the judgment, click here.

Camden LBC v Carter Reeves and Akil Miah
3 December 2013

The council discovered that a property in its area was being used as an HMO without a licence. It had previously prosecuted the owners but brought this further prosecution against the letting agents. By the date of hearing the company, C Reeves Limited, had been dissolved and so Highbury Corner magistrates' imposed the fine of £4800 (for failure to license and five other offences under the Housing Act 2004) on Mr Akil Miah, a director of Carter Reeves, with costs of £12,269. For details of the prosecution, click here.

Complaint against Tai Ceredigion Cyf
28 November 2013

TCF is a stock transfer housing association. It entered into a partnership agreement with the local council under which all its stock was to be let in accordance with the council's statutory allocation scheme. The council accepted that it owed the main homelessness duty to an applicant and placed her on the allocation scheme. She was a previous tenant of TCF which considered that she owed it a former tenant debt. The council did not exercise its power disqualify her from the scheme and nominated her to TCF. Three TCF properties became available for which the applicant was the highest qualified under the scheme but she was by-passed by TCF because of her alleged debt. The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW) found that TCF had taken matters into its own hands in "complete disregard for the partnership agreement.., the law and government guidance and all good practice." TCF considered that other partners in the common housing register had similarly departed from the agreement and circulated the draft embargoed PSOW report to other RSLs which then wrote to the ombudsman. The PSOW considered this demonstrated that there may be wider problems with stock transfer landlords in Wales and referred the report to the Welsh Government. The PSOW recommended an apology and £1000 compensation for the complainant. For the report, click here.

Trafford Housing Trust Ltd v Rubinstein and others [2013] UKUT 0581 (LC)
22 November 2013

The trust sought to comply with the statutory consultation arrangements in respect of service charges payable by leaseholders. That required it to allow 30 days for consultation. It issued notices dated 16 March 2011 seeking responses by 15 April 2011. A leasehold valuation tribunal (LVT) found that the notices would have been delivered on 18 March 2011 and that 30 days expired on 16 April 2011. The notices were therefore short by one day and invalid. The LVT decided not to dispense with the consultation notice requirements. The council appealed, on the basis that the 30 days should run from the date of the letter or the next day. The Upper Tribunal dismissed an appeal. The LVT had made no error. For the judgment, click here.

LA v Bury MBC [2013] UKUT 0546 (AAC)
4 November 2013

The claimant occupied a four bedroom house. Her full housing benefit (HB) entitlement only extended to a three bedroom house but she used the fourth bedroom as a sole bedroom for one of her young sons who had autistic spectrum disorder and ADHD. The local tribunal upheld the council's limitation of the HB. The Upper Tribunal (UT) allowed an appeal. The regulations on which the council relied had unlawfully discriminated against disabled children needing their own rooms (see Burnip v Birmingham CC) but had not been amended. In those circumstances the UT examined the actual orders made in Burnip. They showed that the councils had been ordered to pay benefit at the level that would lawfully be required absent discrimination. Applying that approach, the UT took the decision that the council should have taken and awarded a sum equal to full HB for a four bedroom property. For the judgment, click here.

Housing Law Articles

Recent developments in housing law
N. Madge and J. Luba
[2013] December Legal Action 29
For back issues of articles in this series, click here.
To read the current article, click here (LAG subscribers only)

Housing repairs update
B. Prevatt
[2013] December Legal Action 11
For back issues of articles in this series, click here.
To read the current article, click here. (LAG subscribers only)

Prosecuting landlords - an update
J. Luba
[2013] December Legal Action 19
To read the article, click here. (LAG subscribers only)

Orthodox ways to combat the rule in Hammersmith v Monk
I. Loveland
[2013] December Legal Action 38
To read the article, click here. (LAG subscribers only)

Challenging the bedroom tax: update
D. Simmons
[2013] 237 Welfare Rights Bulletin 4

Advance rent or a deposit (Johnson v Old)
S. Gerlis
[2013] Busy Solicitors Digest

Housing Law Events

Next Year

Defending Possession Proceedings: One Year On
15 January 2014
A Housing Law Practitioners Association meeting in London
For more details, click here.

Government's attack on Squatters
15 January 2014
A Haldane Society meeting in London (featuring David Watkinson)
For more details, click here.

Homeless Young People - rights, responsibilities and responses
21 January 2014
A free one-day training course from the LCN in London
For more details, click here.

Human Rights to Occupy Land for Homes and Protest
13 February 2014 from 18:30 to 20:00
Garden Court Chambers, London
For more details, click here.

Introduction to Housing Law
26 February 2014
A Legal Action Group training event in London
For more details, click here.

Implications of the Bedroom Tax and the Benefit Cap
6 March 2014 from 18:30 to 20:00
Garden Court Chambers, London
For more details, click here.

Homelessness
12 March 2014
A Housing Law Practitioners Association meeting in London
For more details, click here.

Housing Rights of the Vulnerable
27 March 2014 from 18:30 to 20:00
Garden Court Chambers, London
For more details, click here.

The Care Bill: Implications for Accommodation Issues
1 May 2014 from 18:30 to 20:00
Garden Court Chambers, London
For more details, click here.

Defending Possession Proceedings
14 May 2014
A Legal Action Group training event in London
For more details, click here.

Anti-social Behaviour Strategy
21 May 2014
A Housing Law Practitioners Association meeting in London
For more details, click here.

Homelessness and Allocations: Where Are We in 2014?
5 June 2014 from 18:30 to 20:00
Garden Court Chambers, London
For more details, click here.

Costs, CFA and Funding
16 July 2014
A Housing Law Practitioners Association meeting in London
For more details, click here.

Housing Money Claims: Deposits & Disrepair
17 September 2014
A Housing Law Practitioners Association meeting in London
For more details, click here.

Conducting Disrepair Claims Post LASPO and Jackson
25 September 2014 from 18:30 to 20:00
Garden Court Chambers, London
For more details, click here.

Understanding Leasehold and Service Charge Disputes
23 October 2014 from 18:30 to 20:00
Garden Court Chambers, London
For more details, click here.

Housing Law Update
19 November 2014
A Housing Law Practitioners Association meeting in London
For more details, click here.

As this will be our last update before Christmas, the editor wishes all readers a very enjoyable festive break.

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