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Unlawful eviction

Where the police forcibly removed a Licensee from a property, the Court of Appeal held in Gibson v Douglas 2016, that the Licensor and her son were not guilty of unlawful eviction although they refused to say whether or not the eviction was in fact unlawful.

Mr Gibson had been Mrs Douglas’ lodger for some 5 years. Mr Gibson suggested that in 2010 the relationship “blossomed and became more than just landlady and tenant.” The court appears to have accepted this submission. Generally, lodgers are excluded licensees and not tenants of a property and consequently not protected by the notice provision in the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. Accordingly, Mr Gibson was not entitled to the statutory period of notice under the 1977 Act.

In 2012 Mrs Douglas was admitted into hospital. In hospital Mrs Douglas stated that she did not want to return home because she alleged that Mr Gibson had been violent towards her. In response, the hospital contacted Mrs Douglas’ son, Mr Douglas, who called the police following a conversation with his mother. The police and they attended the property along with Mr and Mrs Douglas. At the property, following what is described as a ‘fracas’ with the police, Mr Gibson was removed from the property by the police and taken to the police station.

County Court
Mr Gibson began proceedings in the County Court for unlawful eviction. The County Court held that as an excluded licensee when Mr Gibson was faced with a situation where Mrs Douglas was communicating through authorities, that she wanted him out of the property, his right to stay there was extremely limited and those who acted upon her wishes acted entirely properly. The court also held that it was not satisfied that Mr Douglas’ role was anything more than simply a “conduit” for his mother’s wishes who played no part in the removal so as to entitle Mr Gibson to claim damages against him.

Court of Appeal
Mr Gibson appealed to the Court of Appeal but permission to appeal was “limited to the question of whether a licensee may lawfully be evicted without notice.” The Appeal Court dismissed the appeal.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the County Court’s findings and held that in this specific case the Court was correct to decide the case on the narrow point that Mr Douglas was not sufficiently involved in what happened to be exposed to whatever liability there might have existed. On that basis there was no need for the County Court to come to any conclusion as to whether the eviction was unlawful, either for failure to provide notice or because Mr Gibson was given inadequate time to pack up and go.

The Appeal Courts concluding remarks stated that “it is clear law that, where the relevant period has not been specified by the licence itself, a licensee is entitled, following revocation of the licence, to whatever in all the circumstances is a reasonable time to remove himself and his possessions.” In a case such as this the appropriate notice period would depend on the circumstances. That said, the Court held that the notice might typically be a period measured in weeks rather than months or years.

The brief conclusion is very interesting. It is generally assumed that lodgers have no rights at all and can just have the locks changed. The Court of Appeal appears to be suggesting here that they must in fact be given some notice to allow reasonable packing of their possessions. How long that notice is would be variable depending on how long the lodger has been in the property. Frustratingly, the Court has not actually given a definitive answer and so the question remains one to be answered another day.

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