When a tenant leaves the premises for extended periods without informing the landlord there’s always a question as to whether the tenant has abandoned the premises permanently or whether he/she intends to return.
Taking over or re-possessing premises in these circumstances is always risky as substantial damages can be awarded for illegal eviction.
In the case of Loveridge v Lambeth LBC , which was appealed to the Supreme Court for a decision, provides a sharp reminder to social landlords (but the same basic principles apply to private landlords) looking to recover possession of premises.
It seems that even when it appears for all intents and purposes that a tenant has abandoned the tenancy, taking over the promises without a formal surrender of the tenancy or a court order can be an expensive gamble.
In the Loveridge case Mr Loveridge had a secure tenancy with Lambeth Council. He went away for 5 months without informing his landlords, who entered and re-let.
The court found Mr Loveridge had been unlawfully evicted and was due compensation, the question before the Supreme Court. In assessing damages for unlawful eviction sections 27 and 28 of the Housing Act 1988 apply.
According to Christine Land, housing management solicitor, Croftons Solicitors LLP, writing for www.24dash.com Section 27 Housing Act 1988 provides that where a tenant is unlawfully evicted the landlord is liable to pay the tenant statutory damages.
Under section 28 of the Act, these damages are assessed on the difference in value of the landlord’s interest with the tenant in the premises and the value of the property with vacant possession.
In the Loveridge case, as a secure tenant the difference in these values is substantial at £90,500 a figure the judges awarded as statutory damages to Mr Loveridge against Lambeth Council.
There was some controversy over the way these damages are calculated between the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, but the latter interpreted the legislation as it stands, despite that fact that the Council did not have a monetary gain by its actions.
According to Christine Land, Sections 27 & 28 were introduced to dissuade unscrupulous private landlords from evicting Rent Act 1977 tenants in favour of granting new assured tenancies allowing them to charge a market rent. Sections 27 and 28 are therefore intended to deprive landlords of their financial gain.
The Supreme Court therefore suggested that Parliament revisit the application of sections 27 and 28.
In the meantime, it will be extremely important for social and private landlords to err on the side of caution with regards to recovering possession of premises and re-instate tenants as soon as possible if a mistake is made.
As the law stands, similarly private landlords need to take care when re-possessing premises in circumstances where it appears tenants have abandoned as, although damages are likely to be less than in this social housing case, nevertheless they can be substantial.
Landlords should obtain a signed surrender or a court order before re-possessing premises with a current tenancy in place.
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Taking over premises when a tenant leaves for extended periods can be an expensive gamble as Lambeth Council found. http://t.co/41SyHq1XRX
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