Landlord must pay damages to church over unlawful eviction

A landlord has been ordered to pay damages to a church organisation that was unlawfully evicted from its rented premises.

The case involved Jesus Sanctuary Ministries Ltd and Ruby Triangle Properties.

The church had started occupying the property under a rental agreement in 2009. The property was later sold to the current landlord.

In 2019, the landlord notified the church that any rent arrears had been assigned to it under a deed of assignment. An eviction notice was affixed to the property requiring the church to vacate in 12 days.

The landlord took possession of the property without a court order and changed the locks. The church obtained a county court injunction ordering the landlord to restore possession to it.

Possession was restored later that evening.

Following correspondence between the two parties, the landlord conceded that the church was a tenant for the purposes of the Landlord and Tenant Act. The church sought damages for unlawful eviction.

The High Court found in its favour. The church was awarded the cost of hiring a locksmith and replacing the locks and keys. It had been put to the trouble and inconvenience of having to apply to the county court for an order restoring possession and was entitled to its costs of the claim up to and including the county court hearing.

It had also been kept out of the premises for 40 hours and had to wait for three to four hours after the court order was produced. General damages of £1,500 were awarded to reflect that loss of amenity, nuisance and distress and inconvenience.

Exemplary damages equating to three months' rent were also awarded because the landlord had known that the church had been in occupation for a considerable time, it had treated the church as a tenant for the purpose of giving notice of the assignment, and the notice of eviction had not provided a reasonable notice to vacate.

As for the deed of assignment, no rent arrears relating to the property had been assigned to the landlord. The church was liable for arrears accrued after the assignment and it could offset the damages awarded against that liability.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of commercial property law.

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