Sims v Dacorum Borough Council [2014] UKSC 63

A challenge to a notice to quit in relation to a local authority residential tenancy had the potential to alter a fundamental rule of periodic tenancies, with wide implications. In the end, the challenge was decisively rejected in the Supreme Court, in one short judgment, with which all seven (not the usual five) members of the Court agreed.

Mr Sims and his wife were joint tenants under a secure weekly tenancy of a house, granted by Dacorum Borough Council. After the couple separated, Mrs Sims served a notice to quit on the Council purporting to terminate the tenancy. It is well established that a periodic tenancy can be terminated by notice served by only one of two or more joint tenants.

Mr Sims asked the Council if he could remain in the house and have the tenancy transferred into his sole name. The Council refused, and brought proceedings for possession. Mr Sims argued that granting the Council possession would infringe his rights to (a) respect for his home under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and (b) peaceful enjoyment of his possessions under Article 1 of the First Protocol to the Convention.

The Supreme Court held that Mr Sims’ rights under the ECHR were not infringed as:

  • The tenancy had been determined in accordance with the contractual terms that he had agreed to, which expressly stated that the tenancy would be ended if notice were served by either joint tenant;
  • no criticism could be made of the Council’s decision-making process and it was both lawful and proportionate for an order for possession to have been made; and
  • Mr Sims was able to rely on the protection offered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 (which requires a minimum of four weeks’ notice to be provided).

Although the decision is largely fact-dependent, the key aspect is the importance which the Court attached to the contractual basis of termination of the tenancy. This will be welcome news to local housing authorities and social housing providers alike. It should reduce the number of human rights challenges, provide greater certainty and reduce costs. But the potential implications extended to all periodic tenancies, whether residential or commercial, and as the Court pointed out, while it might seem harsh to Mr Sims that his wife could terminate their tenancy unilaterally, the other possible outcomes would be harsh to others. Either Mrs Sims would be forced to remain a tenant against her will; or the landlord would be left with one tenant instead of two, and therefore less security.