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Nuisance Tenants – The Public Sector Equality Duty Is not a Trump Card

Social housing providers are obliged to pay particular regard to the needs of disabled tenants. However, as a guideline High Court ruling showed, that is not a trump card which can be used automatically to defeat attempts to evict nuisance neighbours.

The case concerned a man who had a history of behaving aggressively towards a neighbour, causing her such distress as to affect her health. Their landlord, a social housing trust, obtained an injunction against him in an attempt to make him desist from his antisocial behaviour. However, his disobedience to that order eventually resulted in committal proceedings and a suspended jail term.

The trust also launched possession proceedings but, shortly before that case was due to be heard, the man served medical evidence which indicated that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. The hearing proceeded, however, and a judge made a possession order on the basis that it was a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim of protecting his neighbour’s welfare.

In challenging that decision, the man’s lawyers relied upon the public sector equality duty (PSED) enshrined in the Equality Act 2010. It was submitted that the absence of a detailed assessment of the impact of eviction on the disabled tenant amounted to an irredeemable flaw in the proceedings and that the possession claim should have been dismissed, or at least adjourned.

In rejecting the appeal, however, the Court noted that the medical evidence had been presented so late as to preclude such an assessment prior to the hearing. A PSED-compliant assessment had subsequently been carried out, reaching the conclusion that enforcement of the possession order would be justified. The Court was therefore satisfied that, even had an assessment been performed as soon as the man’s disability came to light, the outcome would have been the same.

Whilst recognising the importance of the PSED, the Court noted that it should not be viewed as creating a series of fixed hoops through which public authorities must pass, regardless of circumstances. The trust had not breached the PSED and, in making the possession order, the judge had properly balanced the man’s rights against the misery he had inflicted on his neighbour.