Property Litigation

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council: Tenant failing to use property as principal home evicted

We recently acted for Southend-on-Sea Council and their ALMO, South Essex Homes, in a claim for possession where the tenant, Ms C, was not using the flat let to her as her only or principal home, in breach of her tenancy agreement.

The tenant had been let a two bedroom flat in Essex in 2006. The rent had been paid sporadically over the years and the account had periodically fallen into arrears. On a number of occasions, the arrears would be cleared with lump sum payments.

Suspicions were raised in May 2012 about whether Ms C was living full time at the property. A credit check revealed that Ms C was linked to an address in Norwich, over 75 miles away. Further investigations revealed that Ms C had an assured shorthold tenancy of a property in Norwich and appeared to live there with her partner and her daughter, who was also at college in Norwich. Further enquiries revealed that a number of other people had resided at the Essex address over the years, including a couple with two children.

When presented with these findings, Ms C admitted that she held a tenancy in Norwich but stated that her home in Essex remained her principal home. She stated that she worked as a bank nurse in hospitals in Norwich and Essex. Ms C also admitted that a number of people had stayed at the property over the years but stated that these people were family members who needed a place to stay after coming over to the UK from Zimbabwe. She maintained that she had lived there all along, though intermittently – even with the family of four.

The council served a notice to quit on Ms C, giving 4 weeks’ notice in November 2012. Ms C did not give up possession and a claim for possession was issued in the county court. Ms C, who was privately represented at the trial in August 2013, maintained that the Essex property was her principal home. However, when pushed for answers to specific questions about her living arrangements during cross examination, Ms C was very evasive and repeatedly answered “no comment”. She ultimately appeared to accept that all the hallmarks of a ‘principal home’ were to be found in her Norwich home rather than the property in Southend.

The judge decided that at the time of the expiry of the notice period of the notice to quit, the Essex address was not Ms C’s principal home. The judge was critical of the evasiveness of Ms C during evidence and decided that there were a number of compelling factors which indicated that the Norwich address was her principal home – 1) all or most of her post went to Norwich; 2) it was the address she used for her employment purposes (it was her address on her payslips and contracts, for example); 3) all her bank accounts were registered to the Norwich address; 4) she had applied for 48 loans using the Norwich address, 39 of which had been successful; 5) none of the loans were taken out using the Essex address); 6) her partner and daughter lived with her at the Norwich address; 6) her daughter went to college in Norwich and 7) the tenancy agreement in respect of the Norwich address had been renewed until April 2013. In stark contrast, similar hallmarks were not to be found in relation to the Southend address, and the judge commented that what Ms C “did do at Norwich was as telling as what she did not do in Essex”. The judge also awarded the council its costs.

If Ms C does not make a suitable arrangement to repay those costs, we will be assisting the council to recover those costs by measures which may include an attachment of earnings order.

For further information please contact Amy Gibbs