There is often little that some tenants can do if their landlord decides they want the property back.
But today the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled (summary here) that a court must give detailed consideration to a defence to a landlord’s claim for possession by a disabled tenant under the Equality Act 2010.
The judgment has significant implications for the protection of disabled tenants in private or social housing from eviction.
Tenants in private tenancies and other insecure tenancies in the social sector (such as temporary accommodation) have virtually no security in housing law, even if they have disabilities. The court has no choice but to make an order for possession as long as landlords follow the correct eviction procedure. But now, where an Equality defence can be made, a landlord will have to justify the eviction as necessary and proportionate, otherwise the Court can decide that eviction should not go ahead.
The tenant in the Supreme Court case suffers from serious mental health problems. The council found him to be homeless in 2010, and accommodated him in temporary accommodation. However, the council discharged their duty to rehouse him after he refused offers of alternative accommodation. A claim for possession of the temporary accommodation was made to the courts.
With Shelter’s help, he challenged the possession claim on the grounds that he was being treated unfavourably in being evicted, because his disability played a major part in his being unable to accept offers of accommodation and to move out of the temporary accommodation that had become his home.
We argued that, contrary to the Equality Act 2010, his eviction was not necessary or proportionate because the housing association had a less harmful option when they started proceedings – they could have simply fulfilled their legal duty to another homeless person by letting him stay where he was and offered alternative accommodation to that other homeless person.
The Court of Appeal had previously decided that judges should make a summary judgment in cases of this kind, meaning that the court could make a decision at the first hearing, arguably without giving the disabled tenant a real opportunity to put their case fully before the court.
The Supreme Court found that, in the light of provisions in the Equality Act, a court considering a defence by a disabled tenant to a landlord’s claim for possession should take a ‘structured approach.’
In particular, judges considering a defence to a landlord’s possession must give attention to:
- the landlord’s aims in taking the step to evict the tenant/occupier;
- whether or not there is a rational link between the landlord’s aim and the proposed eviction of the disabled tenant;
- whether evicting the tenant is no more than is necessary to achieve that aim; and
- whether the eviction strikes a fair balance between the landlord’s aims and the disadvantages caused to the disabled person.
This judgment is likely to help disabled tenants in private or social housing, who are threatened with eviction where they have limited security, have no other defences, and the reason they are being evicted is linked to their disability.
It will mean they have the opportunity to put forward a detailed case, and unless the landlord can justify eviction, the Courts may refuse to make a possession order, when previously it would have been all but inevitable.
Michelle Crabbe, the Shelter Bristol solicitor involved in the case summed it up succinctly: “a major and significant step in this judgment towards ensuring that the rights of disabled tenants under the Equality Act to protection from unjustified eviction are properly considered by the courts.”