Damages for Unlawful Eviction

Part of Clause 27 – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 9th November 1988.

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Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng , Brent South 9:30 pm, 9th November 1988

I entirely accept that, and I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention. There is nothing onerous or unreasonable about requiring a landlord who claims that he has offered to reinstate a tenant and who has received an unreasonable refusal to give evidence of that offer in writing. We have yet to hear any reasoned objection to that proposal from the Government. What can be wrong with asking a landlord who says that his offer was unreasonably rejected for written evidence of his offer? One of the ways in which the courts have traditionally attempted to balance the unequal relationship between landlord and tenant has been to require, if not written evidence, at least something that shows the existence of an agreement which can be of value to, and can be taken into account by, the courts.

In such circumstances, what could be more reasonable than saying that the whole agreement need not be in writing but that if a landlord seeks to rely on a tenant's unreasonable refusal of his offer, he must show that that offer was made in writing? Otherwise, landlords will have every reason to maintain falsely that they made an offer, on the offchance that the judge will believe them. That sometimes happens. Some people are accomplished liars and it is not always possible for the courts to detect such persons, although mercifully they often do; one has a certain feel for such matters. It is not unreasonable to make such a requirement and so deter those who seek to reduce compensation and waste the court's time by laying a false trail. The Minister has given no satisfactory explanation as to why the amendment should be rejected.

Amendment No. 25 requires the court to determine whether it was unreasonable of a former residential occupier to refuse the offer. Clause 27(6)(a) gives the court the power to reduce the amount of compensation that the tenant would otherwise receive if it appears that, prior to the proceedings beginning, the landlord has offered to reinstate the tenant and that offer has been unreasonably refused. Under the Bill as drafted, the court cannot take into accounts in deciding whether a refusal of an offer to reinstate is unreasonable, the fact that the tenant may have obtained alternative accommodation, however well settled the tenant may have become.

Suppose that a tenant has been pushed out of his home in horrendous circumstances. Having gone through what can be an extremely traumatic experience, the natural thing for him to do is to put down roots as quickly as he can in his new abode. We say that it is wrong that the courts should not be able to take that into account when determining whether the residential occupier unreasonably refused the offer of reinstatement. It is a simple amendment strengthening the hands of the court in arriving at a just decision.

The Opposition have tabled a bundle of amendments seeking to remedy the fact that the protection given is insufficient for the purposes set out in the Bill. We seek to protect the tenant from the harassment that will result from the Bill and to give the courts the powers and discretion to exercise their function in a just way and allow them to establish the true relationship between landlord and tenant rather than to allow the landlords deliberately to obscure the truth.

We commend the amendments to the House in the context of a Bill that has already had a marked impact on the incidence of harassment in our constituencies. It is not good enough for Ministers in this House or in another place to tell us that we have no need to fear because everything will be all right and that the provisions are the best that can possibly be arrived at. That reassurance will fall on deaf ears in terms of those at the cutting edge of the housing crisis and the current spate of speculation in housing.