Cutting tenancies short
The judgement in a starter tenancy possession case is good news for landlords, says Josephine Sharrock, solicitor, Brabners Chaffe Street
On 2 March, the High Court handed down judgement in the case of The Riverside Group v Sharon Thomas.
The decision is important because it is binding on all county courts and addresses the way in which social landlords can terminate starter tenancies (the probationary period at the commencement of a tenancy).
For the first time in a starter tenancy regime, the case considers issues of ‘proportionality’, already discussed by the Supreme Court in the context of local authority introductory tenancies. In particular, the case looks at whether the court can consider the proportionality of making a possession order, in what would otherwise be a mandatory ground for possession.
Ms Thomas was a starter tenant.Following incidents of anti-social behaviour, her landlord, Riverside, served her with a notice requiring possession.
Ms Thomas exercised her right of appeal against Riverside’s decision to serve the notice. She claimed to be vulnerable as she was an alcoholic and had been admitted to hospital after an overdose during the course of her tenancy.
The appeal, heard by an internal panel comprising of Riverside board members and officers having had no previous involvement in the case, was unsuccessful. Possession proceedings were therefore issued in the county court under the accelerated possession procedure.
Ms Thomas defended the proceedings on the basis that the making of a possession order would not be proportionate.
The case was transferred to the High Court and the judge, Mr Justice Ryder, ruled:
- The fact that allegations of anti-social behaviour continue after the issue of proceedings cannot of itself entitle the tenant to a fresh internal review.
- It will only be a small proportion of cases that warrant a trial of the facts. This was not one as it was not a ‘highly exceptional case’ and Riverside had not been shown to have acted in anything other than a rational, fair and proportionate manner.
- The court has no power to stay, suspend or postpone possession in a case brought on a mandatory ground beyond 14 days, or up to a maximum of six weeks in cases of exceptional hardship. This is not incompatible with a tenant’s human rights under European law.
- Riverside was entitled to immediate possession.
The judgement is good news for landlords. It will be for a tenant to demonstrate that their circumstances are highly exceptional, otherwise cases should be dealt with on paper, or at a first hearing in the county court.
Subject to the correct statutory and internal review procedures being in place, landlords should be able to terminate the vast majority of starter tenancies in the way that was common practice prior to arguments based on proportionality being advanced.