A major court case next month could set a precedent in the private rented industry when it is asked to decide whether residents facing eviction from a privately owned property are entitled to stay because of their human rights.
The case is to be heard in the Court of Appeal, and although it does not concern private tenants, it will have important ramifications for the sector.
The court is to rule on the case of squatters occupying a site at Heathrow which is privately owned by Imran Malik.
He successfully applied to the Central London Court to have the land restored to him. However, the judge in that case, Judge Karen Walden-Smith, while accepting his claim for possession, took the ‘unusual step’ of granting an appeal against her own order, so that the Court of Appeal can decide whether Article Eight applies to the private sector as well as public bodies.
She said: “The Supreme Court has so far shied away from reaching a determination as to whether Article Eight applies to private as well as public landlords.
‘In my judgment… [since] the land is being occupied as a home, Article Eight is capable of application even though the land owner is a private individual and the occupiers are trespassers.”
If the Court of Appeal agrees, private landlords and their agents will have to take tenants’ human rights into consideration before asking them to leave.
The Residential Landlords Association warned that if the Court of Appeal does come down on the side of the squatters, it will threaten the whole basis of the private rental market.
The European Court of Human Rights has already decided that public sector tenancies and those granted by housing associations are subject to Article Eight of the European Convention of Human Rights, giving a right of respect for the home and restricting the extent to which a public authority can interfere with a person’s right to respect for their home.
Richard Jones, the RLA’s policy director and solicitor, said: “This is a major threat to private landlords and tenants. It is a myth to suggest that landlords always want their properties back; instead they want a stable rental income. Government statistics show that only six per cent of tenancies are ended by landlords anyway.
“The shorthold is an effective way of a landlord reclaiming their property where a tenant is committing anti-social behaviour that blights the lives of their neighbours as well as where they fail to pay their rents.
“If Europe decides that respect for the home provisions within the Human Rights Convention apply to private landlords, this will lead to a mass exodus of landlords, causing untold misery for those in desperate need of a place to live.”
Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, entitled “Right to respect for private and family life”, states:
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.