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Should they have got away?

In R v Q a legal loophole, no tenant will be pleased to hear about has been revealed.

Q either owned or managed a property on behalf of his niece. The Property was divided up into bedsit style accommodation and it was accepted that Q wanted the tenants to leave.

Q had served a 2 month Notice to Quit however this notice was defective and the tenants refused to leave until Q obtained a court order. Upon the expiry of the notice Q’s son visited the property along with 5 men and threatened the tenants with a knife and subjected them to other types of abuse which included turning off the utility supplies.

The harassment by Q’s son continued but there was no evidence to show Qs involvement in any of the activities. It was crucially for this reason that the case was dismissed by the Crown Court. However the local authority pursued the matter up to the Appeal Court.

The Court of Appeal considered the primary question to be whether Q was guilty of an offence under section 1 (3A) of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 on the footing that he was vicariously liable for the acts of his son. The Court held that no because on its true construction section 1(3A) requires the actual participation of Q and in this case there was no room for vicarious liability.

S1(3A) reads:
Subject to subsection (3B) below, the landlord of a residential occupier or an agent of the landlord shall be guilty of an offence if—
(a)he does acts likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household, or
(b)he persistently withdraws or withholds services reasonably required for the occupation of the premises in question as a residence,
and (in either case) he knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, that that conduct is likely to cause the residential occupier to give up the occupation of the whole or part of the premises or to refrain from exercising any right or pursuing any remedy in respect of the whole or part of the premises.

The court held that the phrase ‘does acts’ suggests a requirement of actual participation by Q and more importantly that there is a requirement of knowledge or having reasonable case to believe that Q’s son would take the action he did for Q to be found guilty under the above section. Neither of these elements had been established by the prosecution and therefore the Appeal was also dismissed.

The Court of Appeal emphasised that with this decision they were not suggesting that offenders may not on appropriate evidence, be convicted as a secondary party in a joint enterprise or incitement, or indeed as a co-conspirator. However without the evidence linking the landlord to the harassment the decision in this case will no doubt be followed by the lower courts.

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