PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.
Parents often let their children live in properties they own on an informal basis. However, one Court of Appeal case stands as a stern warning that the absence of a tenancy agreement can make them liable for any misbehaviour by their offspring.
A mother permitted her daughter to live in a property that she owned. There was no tenancy agreement and the daughter occupied the premises on a ‘bare licence’. Her neighbours complained that her dog barked incessantly and about her tendency to loudly shout abuse. They launched nuisance proceedings against both her and her mother and were awarded a total of £4,500 in damages. £1,000 of that sum was payable by the mother and she was also held jointly liable to pay £31,000 in legal costs.
In challenging that decision, the mother’s lawyers pointed out that she was not living in the property at the relevant time, had in fact fallen out with her daughter and had no control over the dog’s behaviour. In dismissing her appeal, however, the Court found that her position could not be equated to that of a landlord. She had retained complete control over the property, maintaining it and paying all the bills.
The daughter had no power to exclude her mother from the property and the latter had chosen to do nothing to abate the nuisance, although she could easily have done so by removing her daughter, the dog, or both of them from the property. The Court noted that the legal position would have been entirely different, and the mother would not have been liable, had a tenancy agreement been in place.
Informal arrangements can often lead to difficulties, even when they are made with relatives. Taking professional advice and putting agreements on a proper footing is an inexpensive form of insurance. For advice, contact Paul Currie.