Tenant's eviction was not an 'emergency'

LAW REPORT 1 September 1995
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Regina v Bristol City Council, ex parte Bradic; Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Nourse, Lord Justice Roch and Lord Justice Hobhouse) 19 July 1995

A tenant's unlawful eviction by his landlord did not constitute an "emergency" within the meaning of section 59(1)(d) of the Housing Act 1985 so as to put him in "priority need" of accommodation by the local authority.

The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by Bristol City Council against the decision of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge on 23 January 1995, who granted a judicial review application by Mihajlo Milan Bradic, quashed the council's decision that his unlawful eviction did not confer on him a priority need for accommodation, and remitted to the council for reconsideration the question whether such eviction could constitute an "emergency" within section 59(1)(d).

Section 59(1) provides: "The following have a priority need for accommodation: (a) a pregnant woman or a person with whom a pregnant woman resides or might reasonably be expected to reside; (b) a person with whom dependent children reside or who might reasonably be expected to reside; (c) a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside; (d) a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster."

David Neuberger QC and Robert Levy (Dudley Lewis, Bristol) for the council; Jan Luba (Bobbetts Mackan, Bristol) for the applicant.

Lord Justice Roch said the applicant, a single man of 36, had been the secure tenant of a room in a house in multiple occupation when, on 20 July 1994, he went to the United States to visit a sick relative. On 15 August, he returned to find the door frame and locks to his room had been changed and the landlord had put all his belongings in a garage. It transpired the landlord was in arrears with his mortgage and the Halifax Building Society had obtained an order for possession of the house. All its occupants had been served notices of eviction.

The applicant was told that while his tenancy might give him rights against his landlord, it gave him no right as against the building society. He therefore applied to the council to be housed, claiming he was in priority need under section 59(1)(d) as a result of a "disaster". The council rejected that claim. The sole question on this appeal was whether his eviction constituted a disaster within the meaning of that section.

In his Lordship's judgment, Parliament did not intend every emergency as a result of which a person became homeless to create a priority need. Many persons who were unlawfully evicted by their landlords would be in priority need under other parts of section 59(1). Whether the words "such as flood, fire or other disaster" were words of restriction or, as the applicant contended, of exemplification, they indicated the type of emergency which had to occur and cause the applicant to be homeless before a priority need arose. The omission in the 1985 Act of "any" before "other disaster" reinforced the view that the event causing homelessness must have the characteristics of being "an emergency" and "a disaster". Such an event need not amount to "force majeure".

Parliament must have had in mind emergencies such as fires or fires, deliberately or accidentally started by human beings. The line was to be drawn to embrace all emergencies which consisted of physical damage leaving the accommodation of the applicant uninhabitable.

Unlawful eviction was not an emergency within section 59(1)(d) and the council's decision should be restored.

Paul Magrath, Barrister