Two recently decided cases illustrate the continuing significance of the decision in Coventry v Lawrence as to who is liable to abate a nuisance and compensate for its commission. Hewitsons acted for the successful Landlords in Coventry v Lawrence.
The case of Cocking v Eacott and Waring 2016 EWCA Civ 140 involved the next door neighbours of two Victorian cottages in Merryhill Terrace, Hereford. Mr and Mrs Cocking became increasingly bothered by the incessant barking of Miss Eacott’s dog, who suffered from separation anxiety whenever Miss Eacott went out. As relations became increasingly strained, the Cockings were also subjected to abusive shouting from Miss Eacott. Mrs Waring, (Miss Eacott’s mother) owned the property. She had allowed her daughter to live at the property on the basis of a permission or licence rather than under a formal tenancy. The court found that Mrs Waring maintained the property and paid all the bills but did not occupy it. She could have regained possession of the property but chose not to do so.
The Court of Appeal upheld the decision at first instance and found that Mrs Waring was liable on the basis that she was in control and could have abated the nuisance but had not done so. Mrs Waring did eventually remove her daughter but remained liable to the Cockings for their legal costs of approximately £30,000. Her position is in contrast to the position of a landlord where there is only liability for the tenant’s acts of nuisance where the landlord had authorised or participated in the nuisance, as confirmed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Coventry v Lawrence.
The case of Peires v Bickerton Aerodromes Ltd 2016 EWHC 560 Ch also concerned noise nuisance but on this occasion the noise was caused by the taking off and landing of helicopters. The court had to consider whether the defendant had acquired a right to commit the nuisance by prescription (long usage) and whether it could be liable for the activities of its licensees, the helicopter pilots.
Here the court whilst following Coventry v Lawrence rejected the argument that the defendants had acquired a right to commit a noise nuisance as the activity had been carried on despite protests. It also found the defendant liable as it had directly sanctioned the activity. The Judge therefore imposed an injunction to regulate the future operation of the helicopter operation.
The law on nuisance continues to evolve. It remains to be seen how far the principles in Cocking v Waring where the position of a licensor was distinguished from that of a landlord will be applied in a commercial context where licences are frequently used. In addition the distinction between a lease and a licence is not always clear cut.
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