Is there a concept of relevant breach in possession actions?
In the recent appeal in the matter of Teign Housing v Richard Lane  EWHC 40 (QB). the High Court considered the proper interpretation of s7 Housing Act 1988 and the meaning of reasonableness in making a possession order.
Mr Lane, had been a tenant of Teign Housing Association since August 2016. He had paranoid personality disorder. On moving in, the parties agreed to fence off an area of land in the communal garden for the tenant’s dogs. Subsequently, Mr Lane moved the gas flue and fixtures and fittings in the kitchen in breach of his tenancy agreement. Due to his mental health condition, he believed that he had permission to do so. Neighbours then complained about Mr Lane playing loud music. Mr Lane installed a CCTV camera, again, believing he had permission to do so. His neighbours complained about it pointing into their personal living areas. Possession proceedings were commenced pursuant to Grounds 12 and 14 of the Housing Act 1988.
At the trial His Honour Judge Carr found that due to Mr Lane's honest belief that he had permission to carry out the works and install the CCTV camera, they were not "relevant breaches" of the tenancy agreement. Furthermore, even if that were not right, the Judge held that it would not be reasonable or proportionate to evict. He found that the evidence of noise nuisance was weak and therefore not made out.
Teign Housing Association appealed arguing that the Judge's concept of a "relevant breach" had no legal meaning. They also raised the issues that that the Judge failed to take proper account of the fact that Mr Lane could not comply with the terms of his tenancy or the impact of his behaviour on other residents, and the analysis of his mental health did not involve enough focus on the effect of his behaviour on others.
Dealing with the concept of “relevant breach”, the Court held that the Judge was wrong to find that the installation of CCTV, even with a mistaken but honest belief that Mr Lane had permission, was not a relevant breach. There was a clear term in the tenancy preventing alterations without consent and that had been breached. The court held that there is no such concept as “relevant breach”. The same comments were made in relation to the allegations of dog fouling and alterations to the communal garden. In relation to the lack of evidence of loud music, the Court held that the Judge was entitled to make that finding.
Mr Justice Dingemans however held that whilst the Trial Judge had found certain breaches of the tenancy agreement were made out, he should have found further breaches namely the installation of the CCTV and the dog fouling. As he had not upheld these further breaches, it was difficult to place weight on his conclusion that it would not have been reasonable or proportionate to make an order for possession. The case was therefore remitted back to the County Court for Trial.