The Court of Appeal clarifies when it is reasonable to evict a tenant guilty of growing cannabis.
Two recent cases City West Housing Trust v Lindsey Massey and Manchester and District Housing Association v Vincent Roberts were appeals from County Court decisions to grant Suspended Possession Orders (SPO) in respect of tenants who had used their properties for the cultivation of cannabis.
The Court of Appeal had to clarify two main issues:
a) should an SPO be granted instead of an outright possession order if there is "cogent" evidence that the tenant would comply with the terms of their tenancy and an SPO
b) how judges should exercise their discretion where they have found the tenant's evidence was untrue in whole or in part
Ms Massey was the assured tenant of City West Housing Trust in a house which she occupied with her children. The standard requirement that the property could not be used for unlawful purposes was included in the tenancy agreement. Her partner used one of the bedrooms to grow cannabis and was convicted of the offence. Ms Massey denied all knowledge of the cannabis and claimed that only her partner was using the room.
The landlord brought possession proceedings relying on Grounds 12 and 14 of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988. The District Judge held that Ms Massey had lied about the cannabis because she was afraid of losing her home. He made a possession order but suspended it on terms that the landlord could inspect the property on short notice, she complies with her tenancy and the partner could not stay overnight.
Mr Roberts was a tenant of Manchester and District Housing Association. The police raided his property and discovered a large quantity of cannabis growing in the back bedroom. He claimed the cannabis farm was imposed on him by a local gang. Again the District Judge granted a SPO.
Both landlords appealed but the Court of Appeal upheld the SPOs. The Court of Appeal has given guidance on how such cases should be treated which is that:
- Before making an SPO the court has to be satisfied that there is "cogent basis" that the tenant will comply with the terms of the tenancy agreement and an SPO. The term "Cogent basis" means that the evidence had to be more than simply credible, it had to be persuasive.
- The focus is on the future not the past.
- The tenant does not have to give cast iron guarantee that they will comply with the SPO. On the other hand the landlord does not have to accept a tenant who is set out to breach the terms of an SPO when the landlord can accommodate more deserving people.
- The "cogent" evidence does not only have to come from the tenant, evidence can come from others i.e. the landlord can arrange inspections.
- Landlords should not be expected to do more than is reasonably expected in relation to inspections, especially if the landlord has limited resources.
- Even if the tenant was dishonest, this is not a complete bar to granting an SPO.
- Tenants should realise that if they lie then the court may consider their assurances to comply with the terms are also lies. Giving false evidence is serious and may have further consequences.
Although the guidance brings clarity, it will not be welcome by most landlords as District Judges will be more inclined to grant SPOs in similar cases rather than an outright possession orders. This will create more management obligations for landlords and also increase costs should tenants commit further breaches of the tenancy or the terms of the SPO.