Tuesday, 18 December 2018

GLC settles Sheriff Appeal Court eviction appeal: Elderpark Housing Assn v. M

Govan Law Centre has settled a Sheriff Appeal Court (SAC) case where a single female parent and her children were due to be evicted following an unsuccessful evidential hearing (proof) which had been conducted by a private firm of solicitors in Glasgow. Parties have agreed to allow the appeal insofar as it relates to the eviction, while adhering to the payment decree, with the appeal being dismissed on a no expenses basis. The Glasgow Scottish Secure tenant will remain in her home with the threat of physical eviction lifted.

The case of Elderpark Housing Association v. M concerned an appeal by way of Stated Case is in relation to a decree for recovery of heritable possession granted by the sheriff in summary cause proceedings in July 2017. The appellant argued that the proceedings were incompetent for the social landlord’s failure to comply with section 14(2)(a) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 (“the 2001 Act”). As a matter of law, the appellant contented that the court was not entitled nor empowered to grant decree in the proceedings. The appellant’s arguments did not require to be tested by the SAC, however, the issues raised may be of interest to housing advisors and solicitors generally.

In the appellant’s submission section 14(2) of the 2001 Act is a fundamental statutory requirement that goes to the competency of the eviction proceedings. From a plain reading of section 14, a landlord cannot raise recovery of possession proceedings without complying precisely with the requirements of subsection (2). The language used in subjection (2) sets out the clear intention of the 2001 Act, namely that “proceedings may not be raised unless” a landlord complies with subjection (2). In the appellant’s submission, the use of these words meant that proceedings raised without compliance with section 14(2) are incompetent as a matter of law. There is no provision in section 14 for relief for non-compliance with section 14(2), nor is any power or discretion given to the court on this issue of jurisdictional competency. Section 14(1) and (2) provides as follows:

14 Proceedings for possession
(1) The landlord under a Scottish secure tenancy may raise proceedings by way of summary cause for recovery of possession of the house.
(2) Such proceedings may not be raised unless—
(a) the landlord has served on the tenant and any qualifying occupier a notice complying with subsection (4),
(b) the proceedings are raised on or after the date specified in the notice, and
(c) the notice is in force at the time when the proceedings are raised”.

The appellant’s appeal point was that the respondent did not comply with section 14(2)(a) of the 2001 Act by failing to serve a notice complying with subsection (4) (the Notice of Proceedings for Recovery of Possession or “NPRP”) on a qualifying occupier within the appellant’s household. Subjection (6) of section 14 of the 2001 Act provides the following statutory definition of a “qualifying occupier”:

“(6) In this section and section 15, “qualifying occupier” means a person who occupies the house as that person's only or principal home and who is—
(a) a member of the tenant's family aged at least 16 years,
(b) a person to whom the tenant has, with the landlord's consent under section 32(1), assigned, sublet or otherwise given up possession of the house or any part of it, or
(c) a person whom the tenant has, with such consent, taken in as a lodger”.

No NPRP was served on the appellant’s daughter who was 16 when defences were lodged. She had been aged 16 for over four months when the NPRP was served on the appellant. This was not a matter in dispute between the parties. The 2001 Act places a duty upon the respondent to ascertain whether there are any qualifying occupiers in the tenancy subjects before serving a NPRP. Section 14(3) of the 2001 Act provides as follows:

“(3) Before serving a notice under subsection (2) the landlord must make such inquiries as may be necessary to establish so far as is reasonably practicable whether there are any qualifying occupiers of the house and, if so, their identities”.

The appellant’s submission was that the sheriff was not entitled in law to grant decree in July 2017. Reference was made to the House of Lords decision in Regina v Soneji and another [2005] UKHL 49, [2006] 1 AC 340. This opinion considers questions of statutory interpretation in relation to whether a provision is mandatory or directory.  The general position has been that where there is a failure to comply with a mandatory statutory provision what then follows is a nullity.  Reference was made to Lord Steyn’s judgment starting at page 349, paragraph 14: “A recurrent theme in the drafting of statutes is that Parliament casts its commands in imperative form without expressly spelling out the consequences of a failure to comply”.

This approach was consistent with the decision of the Sheriff Principal in North Lanarkshire Council v. Cairns 2012 SLT (Sh Ct) 128. This opinion of the court concerned a qualifying occupier – a tenant’s son - unsuccessfully arguing that he had a right to minute for recall of decree. He was not a “party” to the proceedings. However, the Sheriff Principal held that his Article 6 rights in terms of section 6 and schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 were safeguarded by the requirement for a NPRP to be served on him in terms of section 14 – reference was made to paragraph 32 at page 10 of the court’s opinion. The qualifying occupier had been served with a NPRP in Cairns, and had the opportunity had he so wished to apply to become a party to the action under section 15 of the 2001 Act.

The issue of an NPRP not being served on a qualifying occupier was not pled or argued before the sheriff at first instance. However, the appellant contended that it was pars judicis for the court to consider competency if the issue goes to nullity.

This point was recently considered by the Inner House in Simpson v. Downie 2013 SLT 178 – reference was made to paragraph 10: “By reference to Macphail, Sheriff Court Practice (3rd edn), para.2.09, and to the opinion of Lord Young in Douglas v Tait at (1884) 12 R., p.14, it should not be regarded as pars judicis for the court to take a technical point on competency unless either a nullity, or some important external interest, could be identified”. In Simpson the Inner House dismissed the action as incompetent as the issue was one that went to jurisdictional competency.

The appellant was represented by GLC’s Mike Dailly, Solicitor Advocate.


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