A recent Supreme Court case in the UK could have a serious impact on some long-term investors’ plans
Not every legal case is relevant to property investors, but be assured this column is devoted to showcasing only those recent decisions that are significant for the real estate sector. Where better to start, therefore, than the very recent decision of the Supreme Court, our ultimate domestic court of appeal, in Franses v The Cavendish Hotel (London) Ltd UKSC 62 handed down at the end of, what we are still pleased to call, the Michaelmas Term.
The decision matters because it is about recovering possession from a sitting commercial tenant who has statutory protection under Part 2 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. It matters because if, as the present term expires, you want to re-let to another tenant, take back the premises for your own use, or assemble vacant possession for any reason (such as some future development), things just got a great deal more difficult.
To recap, Part 2 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 confers a qualified security of tenure on business tenants (unless the parties contract out). A tenant in occupation of premises under a tenancy for a term of years may stay over at the end of the term, and is entitled to a new tenancy beginning at the date of expiry, unless the landlord can make out one of the statutory grounds of opposition specified in section 30(1). One of those grounds – and perhaps the one most frequently relied upon – is that the landlord intends to demolish or reconstruct the premises (as provided under section 30(1)(f)).
The trial judge found that the landlord genuinely intended to carry out the proposed works if they were necessary in order to get rid of the tenant, but that it did not intend to carry out the works if it were not necessary to do so for that purpose. It would not, for example, have been necessary to do the works if the tenant agreed to go voluntarily. On the state of the law as then understood, the landlord succeeded, relying on a long line of authority that established motive, purpose and reasonableness were irrelevant and that all the landlord had to prove was (i) that it had a genuine intention to carry out the qualifying works and (ii) it would practically be able to do so.
The tenant appealed and lost and appealed again to the Supreme Court. The only issue on the appeal was whether the landlord had the necessary intention to carry out the proposed works. The Supreme Court unanimously held that it did not.
The Court decided that the landlord’s intention to demolish or reconstruct the premises must exist independently of the tenant’s statutory claim to a new tenancy, so that the tenant’s right to occupation under a new lease would serve to obstruct the work. The landlord of course argued that the tenant’s right to a new lease was obstructing the works, because they could not be done without obtaining possession. However, in the judgment of the Supreme Court, a conditional intention of this kind is not the fixed and settled intention that ground (f) requires.