Clients often ask us for advice on how to deal with “troublesome” tenants, both in the commercial and residential sectors. Noise nuisance can be a particular problem. The landlord may not be directly affected by the nuisance but receives complaints from the tenant’s neighbours, who expect the landlord to assist. What happens if the landlord is unable or unwilling to assist and the alleged nuisance continues? A recent Court of Appeal case provides a useful reminder of this area of law.
In Cocking and another v Eacott and another  EWCA Civ 140, Mr and Mrs Cocking complained of persistent dog barking from the adjoining house which was occupied by Ms Eacott. Ms Eacott’s mother, Mrs Waring, was the owner of the house but lived elsewhere. Mrs Waring allowed her daughter to occupy the house without charging a rent. This meant that Ms Eacott did not have a tenancy, only a licence, which her mother could have terminated at any time. However despite Mr and Mrs Cocking’s complaints, Mrs Waring chose not to terminate the licence.
The Court of Appeal held Mrs Waring liable for the nuisance. Despite having control of the property and knowledge of the complaints, she did nothing to abate the nuisance. The level of damages awarded to Mr and Mrs Cocking was relatively modest. However, as a result of the decision Mrs Waring was liable for legal costs of over £30,000.
Mrs Waring’s position as a licensor can be distinguished from that of a landlord. A landlord does not have the same degree of control over a property as a licensor and therefore is not liable for a nuisance committed by a tenant, except where the nuisance has either been expressly authorised by the landlord or is certain to result from the purposes for which the property has been let.
It is clear that the courts will treat landlords and licensors differently where an occupier is held to have caused a nuisance. However one wonders whether it will become necessary for the courts to further develop this principle in due course. The distinction between a lease and a licence is not always clear, it is important to consider the precise terms of the agreement between the parties in question.
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