12 November 2013
Absentee tenants – Don’t forget to pick up the post!
In a stark warning to absentee tenants that neglecting to pick up the post can have dire consequences, a woman who paid £100,000 for the lease of a seaside flat was caught entirely unawares when a possession order was made against her in respect of ground rent and service charges arrears totalling little more than £1,000.
Refusing to come to the tenant’s aid, the High Court ruled (in Grimason v Cates) that she had been properly served with the relevant court documents – although she argued that she had not in fact seen them until long after the possession hearing – and also dismissed her plea that being stripped of her interest in the flat in respect of such a modest debt amounted to a disproportionate interference with her human rights.
The tenant had paid £100,000 for a 125-year lease on the flat which contained the usual provision for forfeiture if ground rent and service charges were not paid. There was evidence that the woman lived in Northern Ireland and took little interest in the property, visiting it only very briefly about twice a year.
In her absence, her landlord was granted a possession order at the County Court in respect of £600 in arrears of ground rent. The landlord also obtained a money judgment of £691.64 to cover service charge arrears. The tenant claimed that she only learnt of those proceedings more than nine months after the Court hearing, when her son called at the property to find the locks changed. However, her application to set aside the possession order was rejected at the County Court.
Dismissing the tenant’s appeal against that decision, the High Court found that she had been served with the relevant court documents in accordance with the rules in that they were delivered by post to the flat, which her landlord had reasonably viewed as her ‘usual or last known residence’.
The Court rejected the tenant’s plea that, by obtaining possession of the property to satisfy a debt of little more than £1,000, the landlord had obtained ‘a windfall’ which amounted to ‘unjust enrichment’. Her plea that the possession order amounted to a breach of her right to peaceful enjoyment of her private property, contained within Article 1, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was also rejected as having ‘no merit’.