Curo Places Ltd v Walker, Court of Appeal - Queen's Bench Division, September 25, 2018, [2018] EWHC 2462 (QB)

Resolution Date:September 25, 2018
Issuing Organization:Queen's Bench Division
Actores:Curo Places Ltd v Walker
 
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Case No: C01BS432

Neutral Citation Number: [2018] EWHC 2462 (QB)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

BRISTOL DISTRICT REGISTRY

ON APPEAL FROM THE ORDER OF HHJ MATTHEWS MADE ON 7TH MARCH 2017 SITTING IN THE COUNTY COURT AT BRISTOL

Bristol Civil Justice Centre

2 Redcliff Street

Bristol BS1 6GR

Date: 25/09/2018

Before :

MR JUSTICE BIRSS

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Between :

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Andrew Lane (instructed by Bristol City Council, Legal Services) for the Appellant

Russell James (instructed by South West Law) for the Respondent

Hearing dates: 26th July 2018

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JudgmentMr Justice Birss :

  1. This is an appeal from the judgment of HHJ Matthews sitting in the County Court at Bristol. After a two day trial the judge dismissed a possession claim brought by the appellant landlord (Curo) against the respondent (Ms Walker) who is tenant of 7B Durham Grove, Keynsham, Bristol. Ms Walker holds a 6 year fixed term assured tenancy of her home.

  2. The tenancy was granted on 7th July 2015. Problems soon developed with Ms Walker's neighbour Jamal Azami complaining about noise nuisance emanating from Ms Walker's premises. A notice seeking possession was served on 9th February 2016 relying on grounds 10, 12 and 14 of of Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988. The claim form was issued on 7th July 2016. Ground 10 (rent arrears) was not ultimately pursued. Ground 14 relates to causing nuisance or annoyance. Ground 12 (breach of an obligation other than to pay rent) is also relied on because the tenancy agreement includes obligations prohibiting the same conduct addressed in Ground 14.

  3. If the court is satisfied that one of these grounds is made out then it may make an order for possession if it considers it reasonable to do so (s7(4) of the Housing Act 2010). The order may be outright or in a discretionary case like this may be adjourned, suspended or postponed including on conditions (s9(2)(3) of the Housing Act). Where Ground 14 is relied on then s9A of the Housing Act is relevant. It provides (in sub-section (2)) that the court must consider in particular the effect the nuisance or annoyance has on other persons, any continuing effect it is likely to have on such other persons and the effect it would be likely to have on such persons if it was repeated.

  4. A further feature of this case was that Ms Walker relied on a defence under s15 of the Equality Act. I will come back to that if necessary.

  5. The Particulars of Claim set out an extensive set of about 150 separate allegations of noise caused by Ms Walker in her flat which was heard by neighbours. The allegations include sounds of banging on the floor, slamming doors, shouting and swearing in her flat. They also include being verbally abusive and using racist language. The large majority of instances relate to Mr Azami while a few related to other unnamed residents.

  6. In her Defence, Ms Walker's case was that while some of the allegations were admitted, some were denied (this sentence of the Defence does not specify which, and explains that will be dealt with in Ms Walker's evidence). The Defence also asserts that a large proportion of the noise complaints are due to poor sound insulation between the flats and that many of the occasions complained of, such as those relating to banging, arise from the fact that Ms Walker has two small children who are very active early in the morning. The Defence admits that Ms Walker had banged on the floor on occasions, stating that this was because she herself was disturbed in the early hours by her neighbour's activities. The Defence explains that Ms Walker has a number of mental health conditions that result in her being impatient and having low levels of tolerance of stress, shouting, swearing and crying; and she has been referred to a specialist behaviour management programme.

  7. The Particulars of Claim also relied on proceedings which took place at Bath Magistrates' Court. Ms Walker was prosecuted as a result of her anti-social behaviour at the premises. She was convicted of harassment but found not guilty of racially or religiously aggravated harassment.

  8. At the county court trial the judge heard evidence from a number of witnesses including officers of Curo. The main witnesses were Mr Azami and Ms Walker. Ms Walker also relied on an expert report (and answers to questions) from a consultant psychiatrist, Dr Rajpal. The judge noted that a number of the allegations relied on by Curo related to other residents but there was no evidence from them.

  9. In his judgment the judge accurately summarised the background and circumstances and then addressed the evidence before him.

  10. In relation to Mr Azami the judge held that that he (Mr Azami) believed the noise was being made on purpose and was directed at him. However Mr Azami did accept that the noises from Ms Walker's flat tended to follow noises from his own property (although not always). The judge held that Mr Azami believed that he and his family were being targeted by Ms Walker's behaviour, that all the noises were part of this abuse and that the abuse was on racial grounds.

  11. In relation to Ms Walker, the judge noted her troubled family history, which involved domestic violence and post-traumatic stress disorder. She felt under constant attack whenever people made comments she thought were directed to her. The judge noted that Ms Walker admitted she had been in breach of the tenancy agreement and that this had had a negative impact on her neighbours but she did not accept the truth of all the allegations against her. She said that she would be woken early by noises coming from downstairs. The Azami family is downstairs. Ms Walker also said that her landlord had not taken proper account of her mental health issues.

  12. The judge was given sound recordings to listen to. He explained that one was particularly revealing because it had been presented to...

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