Ben Reeve Lewis reviews the new edition of this housing classic.
I have been given the opportunity to write a review of the 7th edition of Quiet Enjoyment, recently published by LAG, who are the people who produce all the bibles for housing law types.
Perhaps more importantly they produce books on law that are easily understandable to non-lawyers too.
So they are invaluable in housing advice offices where we apply legal solutions and advice picked up in the field rather than in a university and make idiots of ourselves for years getting shouted at by judges until we start to ‘Get-it’.
My partner Frazzy (who works in travel) looked completely bemused by the title, the last LAG book I reviewed was called ‘Housing Law’ – which she thought made sense.
For those who don’t know there is a legal principle at work in the lettings business, the notion that a tenant is entitled to what is termed Quiet Enjoyment of the property. Harassment and illegal eviction falls under what is known as “Breach of covenant for quiet enjoyment”. So now you know.
Which means that Quiet Enjoyment should be the bible for Tenancy Relations Officers like me. But I have to hang my head in shame and fess up that I have hardly ever used my old editions. I fall into the habit of relying on experience of cases worked on over the past 22 years.
So I thought, as I am the kind of person it is aimed at, why not test drive it, Top Gear style? and keep it with me throughout a typical week at work and consult it for each case instead of relying on memory.
A top gear type test drive
Day 1 got me a brilliant result. The previous week I’d picked up a case of a woman who was on an AST being used as a probationary tenancy by her housing association landlord. Benefit cockups meant she used dreaded payday loan companies to pay her rent. Then they started shouting more than her landlords and so she got into rent arrears, paying Wonga instead of her rent.
The landlords got mandatory possession under section 21. I phoned the housing association and offered to use our homelessness prevention fund to help knock her arrears down. But they weren’t interested, saying they already had possession under mandatory grounds and a money judgement and didn’t have to negotiate.
Armed with Quiet Enjoyment I got back to them and cited human rights arguments under article 8 of the ECHR. They immediately bounced back with the argument that they aren’t a public body, but I parried with the case law of Weaver v. London & Quadrant. They relented, not wanting the bad publicity…..the threat of which I also managed to infer into the conversation…..just for the fun of it.
I knew about these factors before but Quiet Enjoyment enabled me to argue it with more confidence.
Quiet enjoyment 1 Housing association 0.
Of course the big addition to the 7th edition was the section on squatting in the light of recent changes that make squatting a double criminal offence. Illegal entry was already a criminal offence but why not make it really, really, criminal just to hammer the point home?
Lo and behold an alleged squat came my way. I say alleged because the landlord claimed his occupant was a squatter because they weren’t paying their rent. I attended the dispute in progress and was advised confidently, if not a little arrogantly, by the police offer present that he had been trained on the new Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act and knew his squatters from his tenants.
What his training had failed to impress upon him was handily highlighted on page 186 of Quiet Enjoyment (that I had prudently taken with me), that a person ‘enters’ as a squatter, they don’t become one when they stop paying rent.
Quiet Enjoyment 1: Police 0:
And so my week went. I stuck to my task and didn’t make a single judgement based on memory and instead consulted Quiet Enjoyment at every turn, even if I thought I knew the answer, and I’m really glad I did.
One of the dangers of the job when you are working frontline in landlord/tenant disputes is you are often strapped for time and have little space for research or reflection and advisers often dispense legal advice by rote. Hands up on that one.
Getting reacquainted with Quiet Enjoyment took me “back to my roots” as the saying goes. It also gave me ideas for future developments, how far we could take things beyond quick resolutions and how we can help set up cases with sound information to be handed over to lawyers who need to run with it after we have done our emergency bit.
Case law has been updated and peppers the book throughout, giving the adviser handy routes to back-up arguments which is particularly useful for lay advocates like me. In court having a quick route to case law can give you the edge over your more conventionally educated opponent.
Civil remedies and criminal routes are nicely separated and will certainly keep Shelter happy in their insistence, along with government, that there are ample remedies for rogue landlord behaviour, they are right but council staffing and resources are another matter that I won’t dwell on here.
I have been meeting more and more tenants groups lately who, mindful of cuts denuding law centres are looking to create programmes for tenants advocates who can step in and argue the cases for their members.
Also, Tessa highlighted the other day, the strange, underhand and questionable eradication of online legal advice for landlords and tenants suggests a need for the democratisation of housing law advice. Quiet Enjoyment is one of the resources that I will certainly be recommending to this burgeoning movement.