Ottercroft Ltd v Scandia Care LTD & Anor
The Court of Appeal unanimously upheld an injunction against a developer and its Director, which required it to remove a staircase that interfered with Ottercroft’s rights to light. Interestingly, this was despite findings that the staircase only infringed Ottercroft’s right to light to a minor extent.
The Developer (Scandia) and Ottercroft owned neighbouring properties. Scandia and Rahimian started work replacing a wooden staircase with a metal one as part of a café and residential flats development. The staircase serviced a fire escape for the residential flats.
Ottercroft took some initial legal action and in response Rahimian and then Scandia Care gave undertakings not to interfere with Ottercroft’s light. Despite these undertakings, the work proceeded and did interfere – at times when it was known Ottercroft’s property was vacant and without informing Ottercroft.
At the County Court hearing Scandia and Rahimian conceded that its work did impact Ottercroft’s light. It asked that the Court award damages in lieu of an injunction however as the impact to Ottercroft was valued at £886 whereas the cost to Scandia of removing and relocating the staircase was in the region of £6,000. In a post Coventry v Lawrence world this may seem harsh.
Crucial to the County Court’s decision to grant the injunction was the Developer’s conduct. Upholding the decision the Court of Appeal said that the Judge was entitled to take conduct into account in reaching its decision. Further, despite the fairly minor impact on Ottercroft’s light there was an admission that there was an infringement and crucially that the staircase could be moved, albeit at a cost.
- The importance placed on the parties’ conduct is clear. The defendant’s unreasonable and underhand behaviour was critical, so it would be wrong to say the decision is inconsistent with the more recent move away from injunctions.
- Developers need to behave reasonably, communicate well and record the steps taken as these may sway the Court when it applies its judicial discretion as to whether to award damages instead of an injunction.