Council demands boost in powers to seize properties
A London council has urged the government to strengthen landlords' ability to seize under-occupied homes because of a court ruling it says renders local authorities' powers obsolete.
Wandsworth Council has written to housing minister Caroline Flint urging her to reform ground 16 of the Housing Act 1985 after it lost a Court of Appeal case.
The authority argues that the judgement in November last year allowed tenants to defeat ground 16 repossession claims by artificially inflating the size of their households.
Wandsworth had attempted to overturn a previous court ruling which prevented it from repossessing the home of a man who inherited the tenancy of a four-bedroom house from his grandfather. Although he lived alone when the repossession order was issued, two of his relatives had moved into the house by the time the case came to court.
In the letter Martin Johnson, cabinet member for housing at the council, said the case left landlords with 'very little power' to pursue ground 16 repossessions.
'Our concern is the Court of Appeal judgement provides an incentive for underoccupying successor tenants to artificially increase their household as a way to defeat such a possession application.'
Mr Johnson seized on comments made by Ms Flint in her controversial speech to the Fabian Society in February to justify his call for reform of ground 16.
'I agree with the views you expressed at the recent Fabian Society conference that housing "needs urgent and swift action",' the letter stated.
'The opportunity to act swiftly and clarify this situation presents itself with the passage of the Housing and Regeneration Bill through the House of Commons.'
Brian Reilly, deputy director of housing at the council, said more than half of its familysized homes were under-occupied.
'Wandsworth has 2,638 overcrowded applicants on its books,' he said. 'Of the 1,073 council properties which are fourbed or larger, 587 are under-occupied and 453 of these are under-occupied by two bedrooms or more.'
Mr Reilly said the situation was 'clearly a case where there has been an interpretation of the law that is simply wrong-headed'.
Abimbola Badejo, a solicitor at law firm Winkworth Sherwood, said that Wandsworth was unlikely to succeed in its campaign. 'It is difficult for a landlord to say that just because we have issued proceedings against you, you are not allowed to bring somebody in.'