Successful outcomes in linked disrepair claims demonstrate the importance of preserving Legal Aid for housing cases

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Tim Baldwin and Connor Johnston represented the Claimant in the linked cases in M v Genesis Housing Association and M v Newlon Housing Association in Edmonton County Court. The Claimant was homeless with her family and successfully applied to the London Borough of Haringey but was placed in temporary accommodation which was in a very poor state of repair with an infestation of rodents in successive tenancies with the Defendants. The claims led to awards and settlement of substantial damages and costs against both Defendants with the Claimant due to be allocated alternative temporary accommodation. The cases illustrate the importance of provision of legal aid and the challenges faced by homeless families placed in very poor quality temporary accommodation.

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M and her family were accepted as homeless under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 by the London Borough of Haringey and entitled to be provided with permanent accommodation. However, pending this allocation of accommodation she was provided with temporary accommodation under an assured shorthold tenancy at a very high weekly rent of £375 per week which started on 22 December 2009 with Genesis Housing Association.

This accommodation was owned by a private landlord and leased by Genesis to provide temporary accommodation. The accommodation suffered substantial disrepair and infestation by rodents and other vermin which Genesis failed to respond to or acknowledge. A claim in damages and for an injunction in disrepair was brought against Genesis. Expert evidence concluded the property was prejudicial and hazardous to the health of the occupants. As the premises were in substantial disrepair which required major works by the freehold owner, on 4 September 2012 the claimant was decanted and provided with alternative temporary accommodation as a temporary measure with the landlord being Newlon Housing Trust.

However, the claimant was informed by Genesis she could not return to the original accommodation because of the major works required and she had to remain with Newlon. The Newlon property was owned by a private landlord who leased it to Newlon.

Nevertheless, the accommodation provided by Newlon was in a very poor condition suffering from significant dampness, water penetration, disrepair, a defective heating system, and an infestation of vermin combined with rubbish being dumped at the property. A second claim in disrepair with an injunction was issued against Newlon.

In the claim against Genesis, judgment was entered and set down for a damages assessment before DJ Morley. At the door of the Court, Genesis agreed a substantial settlement in damages with DJ Morley awarding costs inclusive of an interim costs order. The subsequent claim against Newlon in damages and costs was settled shortly before the trial as Newlon assigned the lease to Genesis as part of a bulk assignment of leases, who inspected and confirmed that due to the disrepair the property would be returned to the freeholder with the Claimant to be provided with alternative temporary accommodation by the London Borough of Haringey.

Tim commenting on the cases said:
"It was a pleasure to represent the claimant in these proceedings. She and her family demonstrated immense patience combined with great resolve. Unfortunately, this demonstrates a common problem with homeless families having to suffer very poor quality and dangerous temporary accommodation which is owned by private landlords at very high rent met by housing benefit for long periods pending allocation of permanent accommodation. The claimant was able to access solicitors and legal aid, which was granted prior to the LASPO restrictions, to assist her but many are not able to access this assistance especially with LASPO taking most disrepair claims out of scope. These cases illustrate the importance of the provision of legal aid in all housing cases as confirmed by the Low Commission. I fear that with further restrictions in legal aid and the greater use of private accommodation for homeless families, these cases are going to become much more common and vulnerable families with children are going to be left without the expert assistance of solicitors which access to legal aid brings. Further, these straightforward cases illustrate the consequences and very high costs of muddled, incoherent policies and failures of successive Governments to grapple effectively with provision of affordable housing, especially for homeless families."

The Low Commission recommended restoration of legal aid in housing cases including disrepair. Members of the Housing Team at Garden Court Chambers were part of the consultation.

Tim and Connor were instructed by Serdar Celebi and David Foster of Foster & Foster Solicitors.

Tim Baldwin and Connor Johnston are members of the Housing Team at Garden Court Chambers.

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