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Residential leases – bite just as bad as their bark?

26 Feb 2018

 

No doubt many property owners have encountered the situation where they purchase a property in the belief that it is theirs and that they can do what they want with it (within reason), only to find out later that things are not as clear as they seem.

 

The recent Court of Appeal decision of Victory Place Management Company Limited v Kuehn (2018) shows that, particularly with lease properties, owners should be aware of what they are signing up to and not make the assumption above as it may come back to bite them in the long-run.

 

Facts

 

On 29 September 2014 Mr and Kuehn (“the Kuehns”) purchased a leasehold flat which the management company was responsible for maintaining and overseeing.

 

On 9 September 2015 the management company told the Kuehns that the management company operated a ‘no-pets’ policy and therefore pets were not allowed in the property. The lease itself, which the Kuehns had purchased on 29 September 2014, contained a clause which said:

 

“No dog, bird, cat or other animal or reptile shall be kept in the property without the written consent of the management company”.

 

On 19 October 2015 the Kuehns asked the management company whether they could keep their dog, Vinnie, in the property. On the same day the management company refused consent due to the ‘no-pets’ policy but said that they would consider special circumstances, such as guide dogs or for medical purposes.

 

Mrs Kuehn said that Vinnie was required for therapeutic purposes but did not offer evidence in support.

 

In November 2015, after completing substantial renovation works, the Kuehns, with Vinnie in tow, moved into the property.

 

The management company’s solicitors then wrote to the Kuehns asking for Vinnie to be removed or they would commence court action for his eviction.

 

The first judge in the High Court found in favour of the management company and said that Vinnie had to be removed. The Kuehns appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal.

 

Decision

 

The Court of Appeal said that the terms of the lease were clear – pets were allowed in the property at the discretion of the management company as long as they acted reasonably in reaching a decision. It also said that the decision to impose a ‘no-pet’ policy was not unreasonable, particularly because the other tenants of the building in which the property was located had all agreed to it and to abide by it.

 

The Court of Appeal said that, in fact, in any event, it was not a blanket ban on pets because the management company had said that they would allow pets in certain circumstances, such as for medical reasons.

 

The fact that Vinnie was part of the Kuehns’ family was not a sufficient reason to allow Vinnie to stay – the terms of the lease took precedence. The Court of Appeal therefore dismissed the Kuehns’ appeal and found in favour of the management company – Vinnie had to go.

 

Conclusion

 

This case shows that it is important for a tenant to ensure that they understand what their lease says before they purchase a leasehold property.

 

Terms within a lease are there for a reason – if they are breached, tenants should not assume that they will not be enforced by those with the power to do so or that the courts will side with the owners just because it seems fair to do so because the breach seems ‘innocent’.

 

If you wish to discuss this or any other aspect of property law please contact Chris on 0191 211 1515 or at chris.morgan@srflegal.co.uk.

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Short Richardson and Forth Solicitors Limited is a private limited company registered in England and Wales under company number 10572065, authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority No 637150.

Short Richardson and Forth Solicitors Limited is a private limited company constituted and run in accordance with the provisions of the Companies Act 2006. The term “partner” has been used to denote individual senior solicitors employed by Short Richardson and Forth Solicitors Limited.