Burrows v Brent London Borough Council: HL 31 Oct 1996

The authority had obtained a possession order from its secure tenant but then agreed to accept payments toward the arrears. The tenant applied for and was granted a declaration that she had on that agreement acquired a new tenancy. The authority appealed.
Held: The agreement had created a new tenancy even after a final possession order had been made, and a A new possession order was required before any warrant could be issued. Had the authority obtained a suspended possession order, no new tenancy might have been created. While a tenant could not sue for breach of a landlord’s covenant while the tenancy was in the state of limbo, if and when the secure tenancy revived, its covenants likewise revived and were to be treated as having been in existence during the limbo period.
An agreement which allowed a tenant to stay on in a house after a possession order had been made, did not itself create a new tenancy, but he might have the status of being a ‘tolerated trespasser’: ‘In the absence of special circumstances, an agreement by a landlord not to enforce strictly an order for possession, whether conditional or unconditional does not create a new secure tenancy or licence.’ However, a tenant who had not been evicted could apply under section 85(2) to postpone the date of possession, and, upon such postponement, the secure tenancy would be revived because ‘the date on which the tenant is to give up possession’ would not have arisen and thus the tenancy would not have ended. Until a possession order was executed, the court could by variation of its order change the date on which possession is to be given and thereby revive a secure tenancy which had already been terminated.
Lord Browne-Wilkinson said: ‘What, then, is the correct legal analysis? I start from the proposition that where a former tenant is by agreement allowed to remain in possession of the demised property after the termination of the tenancy, the question in each case is quo animo the parties have so acted: depending upon the circumstances, their conduct may give rise to a new tenancy, a licence or some other arrangement. In the present case, on 5 February 1992 the parties plainly did not intend to create a new tenancy or licence but only to defer the execution of the order so long as Miss Burrows complied with the agreed conditions. It cannot be right to impute to the parties an intention to create a legal relationship such as a secure tenancy or licence unless the legal structures within which they made their agreement force that conclusion.
A secure tenancy protected by Part IV of the Act of 1985 is not like an ordinary tenancy. It can only be terminated by an order of the court ordering possession to be given on a particular date or in a particular event. But even determination by order of the court is not final. Until the possession order is executed, the court can by variation of its order change the date on which possession is to be given and thereby revive a secure tenancy which has already been terminated. During the period between the date specified by the order for the giving of possession and the date on which the order is executed there is a period of limbo: the old tenancy has gone but may yet be revived by a further order of the court varying the date for possession. If the parties reach an agreement as to the continued occupation of the premises by the tenant during that limbo period, what intention is to be imputed to them?
In my judgment little guidance is to be obtained from the cases where a tenant holds over after the termination of an ordinary tenancy where there is no possibility that the expired tenancy can revive. The position in relation to secure tenancies is sui generis. In my judgment, the agreement can and should take effect in the way the parties intend, i.e. it is an agreement by the landlords that, upon the tenant complying with the agreed conditions, the landlords will forbear from executing the order, i.e. from taking the step which would finally put an end to the tenant’s right to apply to the court for an order reviving the tenancy. There is no need to impute to the parties an intention to create a new tenancy or licence: the retention of possession and the payment of rent relate to occupation under the old tenancy which is in limbo but which may be revived. In these circumstances I think it is fair to characterise the former tenant as a trespasser whom the landlord has agreed not to evict – a ‘tolerated trespasser’ – pending either the revival of the old tenancy or the breach of the agreed conditions.
Once the effect of section 85 is appreciated, the absurdities which led the Court of Appeal not to accept that Miss Burrows could be a tolerated trespasser disappear. Technically the old secure tenancy is, during the limbo period, no longer in existence and therefore neither the repairing covenants in the tenancy nor the Defective Premises Act 1972 apply. But the tenant can at any time apply to the court for an order varying the date on which possession is to be given and thereby retrospectively revive the old secure tenancy, together with its covenants. If the tenant has complied with the agreed conditions, there can be little doubt that the court would make the required order. Moreover, the tenant will not be a homeless person within section 58(2) of the Act of 1985 because the tenant will be occupying the residence by virtue of any ‘rule of law giving him the right to remain in occupation:’ see section 58(2)(c). If the tenant were in breach of any of the covenants in the old secure tenancy, Brent could apply to vary the order so as retrospectively to revive the old tenancy together with its covenants.
Finally, there is a method (albeit a clumsy one) whereby the order for possession even if an immediate unconditional order, can be discharged or rescinded if so desired under section 85(4). The power in that subsection to discharge or rescind only arises ‘if the conditions are complied with,’ a requirement which cannot be satisfied in the case of an unconditional order. But there is no reason why the order cannot be discharged by consent or, if such consent is not forthcoming, by the court varying the original order so as to impose the agreed conditions and then discharging the varied order.
It was submitted that the fact that the tenancy was granted to Miss Burrows jointly with Mr. Allen whereas the agreement of 5 February 1992 was made with Miss Burrows alone, indicated that the agreement must have given rise to a new tenancy with Miss Burrows alone. Therefore there must be a new tenancy. However, since in my view on its proper analysis the arrangement contained in the agreement of 5 February 1992 gave rise to no new tenancy with anyone, that factor is irrelevant. I therefore reach the conclusion that, in the absence of special circumstances, an agreement by a landlord not to enforce strictly an order for possession, whether conditional or unconditional, does not create a new secure tenancy or licence under Part IV of Act of 1985.
As Brent, by making the agreement of 5 February 1992, did not grant a new tenancy or licence to Miss Burrows as from 12 February 1992. It follows that the possession order of 29 January 1992 was properly enforced. I would therefore reverse the decisions of the Court of Appeal and the trial judge and dismiss Miss Burrows’s action.’
Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle said: ‘whereas an order postponing the date of possession necessarily affects the operation of section 82(2), an order staying or suspending the execution of an order for possession on a stated date has no effect on the operation of that subsection but merely postpones execution so long as the conditions of suspension are complied with.’
Browne-Wilkinson L
Gazette 20-Nov-1996, Times 04-Nov-1996, [1996] 4 All ER 577, [1997] 1 EGLR 32, [1997] 2 FCR 43, [1996] NPC 149, [1997] Fam Law 246, [1996] UKHL 20, (1997) 29 HLR 167, [1997] 11 EG 150, [1997] 1 FLR 178
Bailii
Housing Act 1985 82 85(2)
England and Wales
Citing:
AppliedGreenwich London Borough Council v Regan CA 31-Jan-1996
The authority had taken possession proceedings against the secure tenant for non-payment of rent, and obtained an order, suspended on condition as to payments. He again fell into arrears, and the authority made a further agreement. They now sought . .
CitedCannan v Hartley 1850
. .
CitedGray v Bompas 1862
. .
CitedOastler v Henderson 1877
The tenancy was for seven years. Shortly after its creation, the tenant left the keys with the agent and asked him to dispose of it or make the best bargain for surrender he could, and left for America. A tenant not being found, the agent returned . .
Appeal fromBurrows v Brent London Borough Council CA 21-Jul-1995
. .

Cited by:
CitedSwindon Borough Council v Aston CA 19-Dec-2002
The tenant had fallen into arrears, and a possession order had been made. Having cleared the arrears, the possession order fell, but the landlord purported to issue a new tenancy agreement, with no security of tenure. They now sought possession . .
DistinguishedGreenwich London Borough Council v Regan CA 31-Jan-1996
The authority had taken possession proceedings against the secure tenant for non-payment of rent, and obtained an order, suspended on condition as to payments. He again fell into arrears, and the authority made a further agreement. They now sought . .
CitedLondon Borough of Newham v Hawkins and others CA 22-Apr-2005
The landlord had obtained a possession order, but the tenant continued in occupation as a tolerated trespasser, claiming entitlement as successors in title. Rent arrears had accrued, but even if the tenant had paid thenm the council would have . .
CitedLondon Borough of Lambeth and Hyde Southbank Ltd v O’Kane, Helena Housing Ltd CA 28-Jul-2005
In each case the authority had obtained an order for possession of the tenanted properties, but the court had suspended the possession orders. The tenants had therefore now become ‘tolerated trespassers’. They now claimed that they had again become . .
CitedRichmond v Kensington and Chelsea CA 15-Feb-2006
The borough obtained a possession order of the secure tenancy of a flat occupied by their tenant for nuisance. It was suspended on terms for a certain period. They alleged further breaches shortly before the expiry of the possession order and they . .
CitedHarlow District Council v Hall CA 28-Feb-2006
The defendant had been subject to a possession order in respect of his secure tenancy. He was later adjudged bankrupt. He asserted that the bankruptcy specifically prevented other action to enforce the debt, and the suspended possession order was . .
CitedWhite v Knowsley Housing Trust and Another CA 2-May-2007
The tenant was an assured tenant. She fell into arrears of rent and a possession order was made, but suspended on terms. The court considered whether she continued to be an assured tenant, and could assert a right to buy the property as an assured . .
CitedAustin v Southwark London Borough Council (355) QBD 29-Jan-2008
. .
CitedHoneygan-Green v London Borough of Islington CA 22-Apr-2008
The claimant was a council tenant with the right to buy her property. A possession order was made, but then discharged.
Held: On the revival of the tenancy her right to buy and discount was also revived, and there was no need to serve a fresh . .
CitedJones v London Borough of Merton CA 16-Jun-2008
The court was asked ‘If a former secure tenant of a dwelling-house who has become a ‘tolerated trespasser’ in it decides to cease to occupy it, does his liability to pay mesne profits to his former landlord in respect of the dwelling-house cease . .
CitedKnowsley Housing Trust v White; Honeygan-Green v London Borough of Islington; Porter v Shepherds Bush Housing Association HL 10-Dec-2008
The House considered situations where a secure or assured tenancy had been made subject to a suspended possession order and where despite the tenant failing to comply with the conditions, he had been allowed to continue in occupation.
Held: . .
CitedAustin v Mayor and Burgesses of The London Borough of Southwark SC 23-Jun-2010
The appellant’s brother had been the secure tenant of the respondent Council which had in 1987 obtained an order for possession for rent arrears suspended on condition. The condition had not been complied with, but the brother had continued to live . .

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Updated: 31 January 2021; Ref: scu.78761