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Eviction of Occupants: Whether an occupant was unlawfully evicted and whether it was a tenancy protected by security of tenure (Ruby Triangle Properties Ltd v Jesus Sanctuary Ministries Ltd – 2020)

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This case addresses whether a rental agreement constituted a tenancy rather than a license, and therefore whether the occupier enjoyed security of tenure under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, such that the occupier was unlawfully evicted from the premises.

The background

In Ruby Triangle Properties Ltd v Jesus Sanctuary Ministries Ltd [2020], the landlord undertook a large redevelopment of an area in London. The occupant (“JSM”) was a church and evangelical organisation which occupied part of a property within the redevelopment area under a written agreement dated 3 May 2009 between World Harvest Christian Centre and JSM, by which JSM was referred to as a ‘Licensee’, for the period between 3 May 2009 to 30 June 2012. JSM continued to occupy the premises after this date.

The freehold title of the building was subsequently transferred a number of times, although JSM continued to liaise with World Harvest Christian Centre with regards to the condition of the property. JSM was notified on 25 March 2019 that the interest in the building and any arrears owing had been transferred to Ruby Triangle Properties Ltd (“RTP”). An eviction notice was erected at the property in July 2019 and JSM refused to comply with this, stating in a letter dated 24 July 2019 that a valid tenancy agreement existed and that it had been a lawful tenant since May 2009 under a valid tenancy agreement.

In October 2019, RTP took possession of the property, following which JSM was granted an injunction which ordered RTP to restore JSM’s possession. JSM was permitted to remain in possession subject to a weekly payment of £68.50 per day, which was on a without prejudice basis to its contention that it was in occupation as a tenant. JSM commenced proceedings, seeking damages for unlawful eviction, a sum totalling £70,720.25 which it stated had been taken unlawfully by RTP’s agents from its offices during the unlawful eviction, and for a declaration that it occupied the premises as a tenant and therefore enjoyed the protection of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 (“LTA 1954”).

RTP counterclaimed for arrears of rent and, without prejudice to RTP’s position that HSM was in occupation as a licensee, RTP subsequently issued a claim, having served a s.25 Notice and a notice to quit. Under s29(2) LTA 1954, RTM applied for an order for the termination of a tenancy held by JSM, without prejudice to its position that JSM’s occupation was under a permissive license which was validly terminated prior to October 2019.

The decision

It was determined that JSM had a tenancy protected by LTA 1954 Pt II, and they were entitled to remain in possession until the tenancy was determined in accordance with Pt II.

JSM’s claim in respect of sums unlawfully taken from their offices by RTP during the unlawful eviction was dismissed as this could not be established on the balance of probabilities.

The High Court awarded general damages to JSM in the sum of £1,500.00 in respect of loss of amenity, inconvenience and distress and nuisance. The Court also used its power to award exemplary damages in the sum of £6,250.00 – equating to around three months’ rent – as the Court considered RTP’s conduct to have been calculated, resulting in a profit for itself which might exceed the compensation payable to JSM.

RTP was entitled to recover arrears of rent from JSM, which were offset against the damages award.

Advice and action 

This case is another example, amongst many years of precedents, of a matter relating to security of tenure and the effect of language in an agreement. It reaffirms the key point that an agreement granting exclusive possession, where arrears of rent had been assigned and where RTP knew that JSM had been in occupation for some time, will likely constitute a protected tenancy.

The occupation was capable of protection by the 1954 Act and the eviction was unlawful, particularly as a result of the methods by which it had been effected.  Landlords are advised to take care around eviction and possession proceedings, ensuring appropriate legal grounds are established beforehand and the eviction handled by regulated agents.

JSM’s tenancy was found to be protected by security of tenure and they were entitled to remain in occupation until the tenancy was terminated lawfully. The High Court awarded general and exemplary damages to JSM.

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