The recent case of Metropolitan Housing Trust v (1) Worthington (2) Parkin  EWCA Civ 1125 serves as a stark reminder to landlords and their legal representatives that threats of legal proceedings should not be made against tenants without clear evidence of wrongdoing as this can amount to harassment.
Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin were long-term assured tenants of Metropolitan Housing Trust, living on the same estate. They had both complained to their landlord about long-standing anti-social behaviour in the local area.
As a result, Ms Parkin was given permission to install CCTV equipment at her home for security purposes by her landlord, and Mr Worthington formed a local residents group to collate and store evidence of anti-social behaviour.
Other neighbouring tenants of the landlord complained about Mr Worthington’s and Ms Parkin’s activities. It was said that Ms Parkin’s CCTV recordings were causing a nuisance and invading the privacy of other residents. It was also alleged that both Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin were taking inappropriate photographs of other residents, including young children.
The landlord accepted these complaints and wrote several letters to Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin threatening to issue proceedings for an injunction to prevent supposed breaches of the tenancy as well as potential evictions. The landlord also instructed its solicitors to send threatening letters to Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin who did so. In fact, no proceedings were ever issued and all the landlord’s allegations were found to be baseless.
Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin successfully sued their landlord for harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The trial judge found that the landlord had failed to carry out an adequate investigation of the allegations made by the complaining residents against Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin, and failed to properly manage and supervise its employees.
The Court also found that correspondence sent to Mr Worthington and Ms Parkin contained inaccurate allegations. As such, the landlord had acted in an oppressive manner and its conduct constituted unlawful harassment. The trial judge awarded damages of £4,750 to Mr Worthington and £4,160 to Ms Parkin.
The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the landlord.
This case serves as a useful reminder that behaviour that as first glance may appear “routine” or reasonable, such as threatening legal proceedings, can constitute harassment in certain circumstances i.e. when the allegations relied upon are without merit.
Landlords will need to ensure that all allegations and complaints by tenants are investigated adequately, and staff are sufficiently supervised in dealing with cases.
Landlords will not necessarily be able to rely on legal advice to evade responsibility where legal advice has been provided on the basis of inaccurate information.
For lawyers, this case is a reminder to ensure that any evidence or information provided by a client is sufficiently examined.
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