Rabu, 08 Februari 2012

Judgement Day in the Tribunal

Some non-share-housing-related news: an eagle-eyed tenant advocate has spied this case, in which the Tribunal terminated a tenancy because a tenant quoted the Bible at their landlord.

The offending sermon was delivered in the context of a dispute about a less-than biblical flood that had occurred at the rented premises. In an email to the landlord, the tenant suggested that they look up the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 18 verses 18-23, and Psalm 35 verse 6, as a 'really good fit' for the landlord and their associates.

(The prophet Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo)

The landlord did so, and was particularly struck by Jer 18 v 21, which reads:

So give their children over to famine; hand them over to the power of the sword. Let their wives be made childless and widows; let their men be put to death, their young men slain by the sword in battle.

On the basis of this and certain other alleged incidents, the landlord applied directly to the Tribunal  under section 92(1)(b), which allows the Tribunal to terminate a tenancy (without a prior notice of termination) where the tenant has intentionally engaged in conduct that would be reasonably likely to cause the landlord (or certain others) to be intimidated or harassed.

And the Tribunal made the termination order. It should be said, the Tribunal did hear evidence about those other alleged incidents – and heard evidence from the tenant about the landlord having a go at him – but the evidence about all those incidents was disputed, and it was on the basis of the emailed scriptures alone (which the tenant admitted, and regretted, he had sent) that the Tribunal made its determination.

Your correspondent is not a biblical scholar, but on referring to the Good Book (copies of which are to be found in every Tribunal venue, for the purpose of taking sworn evidence) it appears to me that the story of Jeremiah is that of a prophet who delivered unwelcome prophesies to his people, who responded by making false accusations against him, to which in turn Jeremiah responded (not in so many words), 'well you can all go to blazes.'

One might interpret it, therefore, both as the lament of one who has delivered unwelcome information, and a story about the wrongfulness of giving false evidence.

Meanwhile, Psalm 35 v 6 ('Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them') can be read as a general, all-purpose, old-fashioned curse.

With respect to the Tribunal, it has in this case applied a pretty low threshold to what sort of conduct constitutes intimidation and harassment. We've all come across individuals with eccentric ways of communicating, and we should be expected not to feel afraid of them without substantial cause. We shouldn't stereotype 'scripture-quoting' with 'gun-toting'.

And with respect to the drafters of the Act, perhaps s 92(1)(b) needs to be looked at. A similar provision existed in the 1987 Act, but it applied only to social housing landlords. The 2010 Act extends it to all landlords; this case is an ill omen for its use.