A commercial tenant has been awarded damages of £8,600 after they had been unlawfully evicted from the premises they occupied. The amount awarded by the court may not appear to be a significant amount, but given that the tenant had been out of occupation for a mere 40 hours, the amount awarded is substantial.
Unlawful evictions cases are common in residential settings but they are rare in commercial tenancies. This case therefore serves as a helpful guide for both tenants and landlords to the court’s approach to dealing with unlawful evictions in a commercial setting.
Ruby Triangle Properties Ltd (RTP) had been the registered proprietor of an area known as Ruby Triangle, located in London, since March 2019. RTP had been granted planning permission for a major development of the area in June 2019.
Jesus Sanctuary Ministries Ltd (JSM) was a church and mission organisation and had occupied a building which was part of the Ruby Triangle development area under a commercial tenancy.
On 24 October 2019, RTP took possession of the building occupied by JSM without obtaining a court order and did not used regulated bailiffs nor enforcement officers in doing so. Subsequently, JSM obtained an interim injunction order from the Central London County Court ordering RTP to restore it to possession.
JSM argued that, as it was a tenant, it had the protection and rights granted under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 (Act). JSM brought a claim for aggravated damages for unlawful eviction and for the amount of £70,670.25, which it claimed had been taken from the property when it was out of possession.
In response to JSM’s claims, RTP served a section 25 notice on JSM, which notified JSM that the lease would be terminated and that JSM was required to vacate the premises by May 2020.
It was RTP’s position that JSM had occupied the property under a permissive licence which had been validly terminated prior to 24 October 2019. RTP applied under section 29(2) of the Act for an order to terminate any tenancy held and protected by the 1954 Act. It said:
- Under the current tenancy, JSM had obligations in respect to the repair and maintenance of the premises. JSM should not be granted a new tenancy due to the state of repair of the premises, which resulted from JSM’s failure to comply with its obligations.
- JSM ought not to be granted a new tenancy in view of its persistent delay in paying rent that had become due.
- That on the termination of the current tenancy, RTP intended to reconstruct the premises and that it could not reasonably do so without obtaining possession of the property.
The court was not able to award aggravated damages to JSM, following a previous ruling in 2013 on the subject, but the court did award JSM the sum of £1,500 in general damages for loss of amenity, nuisance and distress and inconvenience, in respect of the 40 hours JSM was excluded from the property.
Furthermore, the court awarded exemplary damages, which are damages awarded to signify the court’s disapproval of a party’s conduct and to act as a deterrent, for the total sum of £6,250. This was on the basis that RTP had taken a ‘calculated risk’ in taking possession without a court order and that in doing so, RTP was partly motivated by profit.
Implications of the case
It is clear from the judgement that the court felt compassion towards JSM. It heavily criticised the unlawful eviction of JSM, and RTP’s conduct as a whole, particularly given that that the property in question was a place of worship, which added a further level of sensitivity to the matter.
The case highlights the importance of landlords following the procedural steps set out in the Act when taking back possession. It is appreciated that, at times, regaining possession of a property is not always a simple task. However, this case acts as a warning to all landlords whether in a commercial or residential setting, that the court will not look favourably on landlords who take an aggressive approach to regaining possession.