In a stern reminder to local authorities that even introductory tenants have rights, a council has suffered costly defeat in its legal campaign to evict an alleged nuisance tenant who had mental health problems and whose ability to read and write was in doubt.
Almost immediately after the man moved into a council flat on a probationary basis, a neighbour complained that he had sworn at and threatened her. He was also said to have been abusive to a council official during a telephone conversation and to electrical contractors whilst they were carrying out work on his home.
The council launched possession proceedings. However, a county court judge ruled that the tenant’s eviction was ‘no longer proportionate’, principally on the basis that he had behaved himself for almost a year before the case was heard. The judge also noted that he had been diagnosed with depression and Asperger’s Syndrome and that there were question marks in respect of his literacy.
The council argued on appeal that the judge had applied ‘too generous’ a legal test in finding that the tenant’s eviction would amount to a violation of his right to respect for his home, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The council also presented fresh evidence which, it said, indicated that he was fully literate and that his mental health problems had been ‘grossly overstated’.
Dismissing the appeal, however, the Court noted that whilst a different judge might have reached a different conclusion, that did not mean that the judge was wrong. The council’s own psychiatric expert had acknowledged that the tenant was vulnerable and possibly suffering from an anti-social personality disorder. If that was the case, he deserved credit for having kept his behaviour in check for the best part of a year.
The fresh evidence had been presented late and the Court found that, in any event, it would probably not have changed the outcome of the case. The decision had the effect of conferring a secure tenancy on the tenant. However, the Court warned him that any repetition of anti-social behaviour could lead to renewed possession action.