Posts Tagged ‘public interest’

The covenant for quiet enjoyment where the landlord also exercises powers in the public interest

November 24, 2014

In Shebelle Enterprises Ltd v The Hampstead Garden Trust Ltd ([2013] EWHC 948) the Hampstead Garden Trust Ltd (‘the Trust’) exercised the rights and powers of management under a scheme of management under England’s Leasehold Reform Act 1967 (‘the Act’). Shebelle (‘S’) held a long lease of a house in the area covered by the scheme of management and the Trust was the landlord. The lease contained an express covenant for quiet enjoyment. F owned the freehold of the neighbouring house (enfranchised under the Act and subject to the scheme of management) which was higher up a hill than S’ property. Although F owned the freehold, the Trust was ‘for the purposes of the scheme to be treated as the landlord for the time being’.

F proposed to carry out extensive works at their property. The scheme of management required them to get the Trust’s consent to the work. F applied and S objected because of concerns about the the effect of the development on the movement of ground water. When the Trust indicated that it was minded to grant consent to the works, S sought a quia timet injunction on the grounds that this would amount to a breach of the covenant for quiet enjoyment. The Trust cross-applied for summary judgment on the grounds that S had no real prospect of success.

S relied on the proposition drawn from Sanderson v Berwick-Upon-Tweed that: ‘if a common landlord A demises land to B and also demises neighbouring land to C, A will be liable to B for breach of the covenant if it authorises C to act in a way which will interfere with B’s quiet enjoyment.’ ([27] in Shebelle per Henderson J.). Either the Trust was to be regarded as being akin to a landlord ([27]) or else the proposition should be understood in such a way as to rely on the Trust’s degree of control over F and not on privity of estate ([29]).

One element of the Trust’s defence was the argument that the covenant for quiet enjoyment could not be invoked so as ‘to interfere with (and/or subvert) the performance by the landlord, in its capacity as a “custodian of the public interest”, of a role under a statutory scheme under which the landlord owes a duty to act in the public interest.” ‘ ([31]). This argument succeeded and the Trust was granted summary judgment. It did not matter that at the time of the grant of the lease the landlord was a private body:

‘The freehold reversion to the Lease was always freely assignable, and the parties must be taken to have contemplated that it might at some date become vested in a body which had duties of a public nature to perform. If the proper performance of those public duties impinged on the normal use and enjoyment of the demised premises by the tenant, it must in my view have been envisaged that the tenant would to that extent be deprived of a remedy under the covenant.’ ([63]).

Michael Lower



Easement by prescription to create a noise that would otherwise be a nuisance. Private nuisance and the public interest

September 29, 2014

In Lawrence v Fen Tigers Ltd ([2014] AC 822, SC) (Coventry v Lawrence) C used former farmland near a village for speedway and similar types of racing. The land used as the stadium had planning consent for the various types of races held there. A succession of temporary consents began in 1992 ending when permanent planning permission was granted in 2002. L was a resident in the village having moved there in 2006. L brought an action in nuisance because of the noise caused by racing and ancillary activities at the stadium. The Supreme Court decided that the judge at first instance had been right to find that the noise was a nuisance and that C had not acquired an easement by prescription entitling it to make the noise that was complained of (although the acquisition of such an easement was legally possible). The fact that the defendants had planning permission to carry on the noisy activity did not settle the question as to whether or not there was a private nuisance.

This note relies principally on the judgment of Lord Neuberger. Although the other judges agreed with him in general there were differences of approach on some issues.

Can an easement to commit what would otherwise be a nuisance by noise be acquired by prescription?

Lord Neuberger held that it is possible to acquire an easement to carry on an activity which results in noise ([33]) and it can be acquired by prescription ([37]). But it is not enough to show that the noise has been created for 20 years. It must also have constituted a nuisance during that time ([42]). Otherwise, the servient owner would not know that a claim was being made against his land ([43]).

Coming to the nuisance

It was no defence to say that the claimant came to the nuisance where the claimant continues to use the property in the way that it had previously been used by her predecessors ([51]). It may be different where the claimant built on the land or changed the use to which it was put after the alleged noise nuisance had started ([56]).

Reliance on the defendant’s own activities in defending a nuisance claim

The character of the locality is an important consideration in nuisance cases ([59]). The court has to have regard to ‘the established pattern of uses’ ([60]). On this basis, the defendant’s own activities clearly should be taken into account ([63]) to the extent that they have become part of the character / established pattern of uses but not to the extent that there has been some change / intensification that might constitute a nuisance ([65]). Even where it was originally a nuisance, the right to make the noise might have been acquired by prescription or sanctioned by a previous decision to award damages rather than an injunction for the breach ([69]). See also Lord Carnwath (at [187]).

The effect of planning permission on an allegation of nuisance

Lord Sumption explained the importance of this issue and the next (remedies):

‘It is, I think, worth pointing out that the question what impact the grant of planning permission should have on liability in tort for private nuisance and the question what remedies should be available for a nuisance are closely related. They both raise a broader issue of legal policy of some importance, namely how is one to reconcile public and private law in the domain of land use where they occupy much the same space?’ ([155]).

It is normally not a defence ([94]) but neither is it irrelevant; it may have evidential value ([96]).

The award of damages instead of an injunction

The role of this issue in the general scheme or design of the law in this area is explained thus:

‘What saves, or could save the law from anomaly and incoherence is the court’s discretion as to remedies. An injunction is a remedy with significant side-effects beyond the parties and the issues in the proceedings. Most uses of land said to be objectionable cannot be restrained by injunction simply as between the owner of that land and his neighbour. If the use of a site for (say) motocross is restrained by injunction, that prevents the activity as between the defendant and the whole world. Yet it may be a use which is in the interest of very many other people who derive enjoyment or economic benefits from it of precisely the kind with which the planning system is concerned. An injunction prohibiting the activity entirely will operate in practice in exactly the same way as a refusal of planning permission, but without regard to the factors which a planning authority would be bound to take into account. The obvious solution to this problem is to allow the activity to continue but to compensate the claimant financially for the loss of amenity and the diminished value of his property. In a case where planning permission has actually been granted for the use in question, there are particularly strong reasons for adopting this solution. It is what the law normally provides for when a public interest conflicts with a proprietary right.’ (Lord Sumption at [157]).

An injunction had been granted at first instance. C now contended that damages should be awarded instead. This issue and the question as to how damages should be assessed was an issue in all but one of the judgments. The Supreme Court clearly saw this as an important issue and an area that needed to be settled. Lord Neuberger envisaged that it would be argued and considered more fully in later proceedings ([152]).

Michael Lower