Supreme Court gives important ruling on liability of 'superior landlords' for Rent Repayment Orders

Wednesday 1 March 2023

Ed Fitzpatrick and Tim Baldwin of the Garden Court Housing Team represented the Appellants in this important case of considerable public interest, concerning the enforcement of tenant’s rights against “rogue” landlords.

They were instructed pro bono by Simon Mullings, Director of Housing at Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre.

See full judgment: Rakusen (Respondent) v Jepsen and others (Appellants)

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The issue in this appeal concerned when certain specified criminal offences were proven on an application to a Tribunal whether 'superior landlords' are liable, in addition to other sanctions, to the sanction under the Housing Act 2004, as amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, of a Rent Repayment Order (“RRO”).

The Supreme Court, on unanimously dismissing the appeal, upheld the Court of Appeal's decision and provided a definitive construction of the relevant statute, s 40(2) Housing and Planning Act 2016. The approach of the Supreme Court identified that specialist expert tribunals charged with making RROs erred in their interpretation of this statute. For example, in this case, the First-tier Tribunal refused to strike out the application, holding that the respondent was “a” landlord of the flat, albeit not “the” landlord of the appellants.

The Respondent appealed, but the Deputy President in the Upper Tribunal dismissed the Respondent’s appeal, holding that an RRO can be made against a superior landlord of an applicant. The Upper Tribunal Judge granted permission where the Court of Appeal allowed the Respondent’s appeal, holding that an RRO could not be made against a 'superior landlord', which the Supreme Court upheld.

Tim Baldwin, acting with Ed Fitzpatrick for the appellants, commented:

“Although the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, in paragraph 43 of the decision the Supreme Court identified that if it was the intent of Parliament to capture Superior Landlords under RROs, in addition to other sanctions, it was for Parliament to legislate on this issue and not rely on a “distorted” interpretation of the statute. We are aware that those at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC), while not being a party to this case, are very interested in its outcome and may be persuaded to legislate on this issue in the Renters Reform Bill presently before Parliament. This observation of the Supreme Court may focus the minds of those now lobbying for such change and the DLUHC under the Renters Reform Bill. However, they should also take heed of the observations of the court in paragraphs 44 – 47,  and the decision of practical complexity of RROs operating against Superior Landlords when seeking such reforms.”

The case was covered in BBC News.

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