It is all very well leaving all your legal affairs in the hands of a loved one you trust but, as one Court of Appeal case strikingly showed, taking independent legal advice is always a good idea, particularly when it comes to property transactions.
The case concerned a husband and a wife who had a limited grasp of English. The husband presented as homeless and was granted a secure tenancy of a four-bedroom council home for the couple and their three children to live in. The wife habitually left such matters entirely in her husband’s hands and, although the agreement was expressed to create a joint tenancy, she did not sign it.
Some years after the husband left her, the council launched possession proceedings against her. A judge, however, found that the husband had entered into the tenancy agreement both on his own account and as his wife’s agent. She was thus found to enjoy the security of tenure and the possession claim was dismissed.
In upholding the council’s appeal against that ruling, the Court noted that the wife had no awareness of the terms of the tenancy agreement, nor had she discussed them with her husband. He had never informed her of any of the accommodation decisions he took, nor had she been involved in them in any way. There was no evidence that she had consented to him acting as her agent; she had no control over his decision-making and the mere fact that she trusted him to find a home for the family said nothing about the legal capacity in which she had done so.
The Court also found that the tenancy had been surrendered when the husband entered into a new agreement with the council, this time naming his mother as joint tenant. The original agreement, being no longer in existence, could not have been ratified by the wife’s conduct. Her arguments that her eviction would amount to a disproportionate interference with her human right to respect for her home and family life also fell on fallow ground. The Court’s ruling meant that the wife had no subsisting tenancy and no right to remain in the property.