When innocence is no defence
- AuthorAndrew Turner
Judges are only human. They make mistakes and they get things wrong. This was illustrated all too clearly in the repossession case of Teign Housing v Lane. This was a Housing Association’s repossession claim against a tenant suffering from a paranoid personality disorder.
The background facts, in summary, were that the tenant had made alterations to the property without permission, behaved aggressively to neighbouring tenants, and generally made a constant nuisance of himself, including parking his car in such a way as to block access to the communal car park.
The Housing Association sought to terminate his tenancy on the grounds of multiple breaches of the tenancy agreement. But the County Court Judge dismissed the claim on the grounds that although there had been breaches of the tenancy agreement, the tenant had not fully appreciated that he was in breach because of his illness and so it was not reasonable for the court to make a possession order. The words used by the County Court Judge were that “there had been no relevant breach”.
What did he mean by ‘relevant breach’? When is a breach an irrelevant breach? Does relevance depend upon whether you knew you were in breach?
The Housing Association appealed to the High Court and the High Court agreed that the County Court Judge had got it all wrong. It was not clear at all what the Judge had meant when he referred to “relevant breach”. He appeared to have gone off on what could politely be described as a ‘judicial frolic of his own’. His interpretation of the Housing Act was wrong. And the case was therefore remitted for a re‑trial.
All in all, not a good day in the office for the County Court Judge.
More significantly, the case illustrates that the court must consider all tenant breaches when coming to a decision about granting an order for possession. The court cannot consider some breaches but disregard others. If the court accepts that there has been a breach, the breach is by definition relevant and must therefore be considered.