R v Tottenham Districts Rent Tribunal, ex parte Pryer Bros. (Properties) Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal
JudgeTHE MASTER of THE ROLLS,LORD JUSTICE SALMON,LORD JUSTICE MEGAW
Judgment Date25 May 1971
Judgment citation (vLex)[1971] EWCA Civ J0525-1
Docket NumberNo. 125/70

[1971] EWCA Civ J0525-1

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

On Appeal from The High Court of Justice

Queen'S Bench Division

(Divisional Court)

Revised

Before:

The Master of the Rolls

(Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Salmon and

Lord Justice Megaw

No. 125/70
In the Matter of an application for an order of certiorari by Fryep Bros. (Properties) Limited
Applicants (Appellants)
and
In the Matter of The Rent Tribunal for the Tottenham District
Defendants (Respondents)

MR. LAURENCE MAPSHALL (instructed by Messrs. Trott Gentry) appeared on behalf of the Applicants (Appellants)

MR. GORDON SLYNN (instructed by The Solicitor, Ministry of Housing & Local Government) appeared on behalf of the Respondent Tribunal.

THE MASTER of THE ROLLS
1

Fryer Bros. (Properties) Limited are the owners of No. 7, Princes Avenue, Muswell Hill, London, N.10 On 13th September, 1969, they let a flat in the house to a Mr. Penn at a rent of £6.3.0d. a week - furnished. On 6th October, 1969, he referred the contract to the Rent Tribunal in accordance with the Rent Act, 1968. He wanted the Tribunal to fix the rent of the flat. According to his statement, it was a tenancy of just one room, which was a bed-sitting-room furnished with a bed, a chest of drawers and a few other things He shared a bathroom and toilet with other people in the house. The landlord charged him £6.3.0d. per week.

2

On receipt of the application the Clerk to the Tribunal looked to see whether it was within their jurisdiction. He made sure that it was within their district and that it was within the rateable limit. Having satisfied himself that there was jurisdiction, the Clerk wrote to the landlords, asking them for information in accordance with Section 72(2) of the Rent Act, 1968. The landlords did not give the information.

3

On 13th November, 1969, the Clerk to the Tribunal sent out notices both to the landlords and to the tenant, saying that the Tribunal were going to hear the application on Monday, 24th November, 1969, and would visit the premises during that morning.

4

Before the application was heard, however, the landlords sought to settle the matter by agreement. They approached the tenant and offered to reduce the rent from £6.3.0d. to £5,00 a week. He was reluctant to accept but thought they would turn him out unless he agreed. They also told him to write aletter to the Tribunal withdrawing his application. He did so. Its terms show his state of mind. It is dated Friday, 21st November, 1969! This is what he said:- "Dear Sirs: I have today reached an agreement with the owner of this flat regarding rent and length of time I will be allowed to stay. I am sorry to cancel my application at this late date, but I had to compromise and accept their offer as I was assured I would be evicted if I let my application stand."

5

It would appear that the tenant took that letter round by hand to the Tribunal in the evening of Friday, 21st November, 1969, but that the offices were then closed. So he put it through the letter-box. It was not opened until Monday morning, 24th November, 1969, at about 9 a. m. when the staff arrived.

6

Mean while, however, the Clerk to the Tribunal had already, on the Friday afternoon, handed to the members of the Tribunal the papers for Monday morning. They included the papers relating to Mr. Penn's flat. Over the weekend each member of the Tribunal read his papers; and each of them completed a record sheet. In it each wrote down the particulars of the premises which they were to visit on the Monday morning. Each finished reading the papers by the Sunday evening. At that time none of the members had any idea that the tenant had withdrawn his application. His letter was still in the letter-box.

7

On the Monday morning at half past nine, Mr. Penn telephoned to the Clerk of the Tribunal. He asked whether the withdrawal of his application had been accepted. The Clerk told him that the letter had been received too late to be shown to the members of the Tribunal and that they would be visiting the premises at 10 o'clock that morning.

8

The members of the Tribunal did not go first to the offices of the Tribunal. They went straight to the flat. They intended to inspect it before holding the hearing. They could not get in. The tenant was not there. They visited other premises and then went to the Tribunal offices. The Clerk then told them of the letter which had been received from the tenant, Mr. Penn. The Tribunal decided that the withdrawal was too late. They took the view that they had already 'entered upon consideration' of the reference, and that they would go on and consider it further. They adjourned it that day. But it was heard later - I think on 12th December, 1969. The Tribunal held that even the £5.00 was too high. They reduced the rent to £4. a week, for this one room.

9

The landlords then moved the Divisional Court to quash the decision of the Tribunal. They said that the tenant had withdrawn his application and that the Tribunal had no right to go on with it. The Divisional Court rejected the application for certiorari. The landlords appeal to this Court.

10

Section 73, subsection (1) of the Rent Act, 1968, says: "Where a Part VI contract" - that is, a contract for a furnished tenancy - "is referred to a Rent Tribunal and the reference is not, before the Tribunal have entered upon consideration of it, withdrawn by the party or authority who made it, the Tribunal shall consider it and then, after making such inquiry as they think fit and giving to each party to the contract.…. an opportunity of being heard or, at his or their option, of submitting representations in writing, the Tribunal…….

11

(a) shall approve the rent payable under the contract; or(b)shall reduce the rent to such sum as they may, in all the circumstances, think reasonable; or

12

(c)may, if they think fit in all the circumstances, dismiss the reference, and shall notify the parties and the local authority of their decision."

13

It is plain from that Section that the tenant can withdraw the reference 'before the Tribunal have entered upon consideration of it': but not afterwards. When does the Tribunal 'enter upon consideration' of the reference? We are told that there is much confusion on the matter. Several cases have been before the Divisional Court and are noted in the Estate Gazette: but they throw little light on it.

14

Several dates have been canvassed before us. It was suggested that the Tribunal could act by their Clerk: and accordingly that, as soon as the Clerk entered upon consideration of the Reference, the Tribunal could be said to do so. Thus the Clerk might 'enter upon consideration' of the reference as soon as he received the application and went through it to see if it was within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. Alternatively, the Clerk might 'enter upon consideration' of the reference when he sent out the notices for the hearing. But I think that in this regard the Tribunal cannot act by their Clerk. It is the Tribunal themselves, and not their Clerk, who have to approve the rent, and to reduce it, or to dismiss the Reference. It is their 'consideration' of those matters which is here spoken of. Schedule 10 of the Act says that a rent tribunal shall consist of a chairman and two other members. Those three are the Tribunal which must 'enter upon consideration' of the reference. Not until those three begin to consider it canthe Tribunal be said to have 'entered upon consideration' of it.

15

Seeing that the Tribunal of three are those concerned, Mr. Marshall, for the landlords, has argued forcibly that the three of them, as a Tribunal, do not 'enter upon consideration' of the reference until they meet together. He suggested at one stage that it was when they meet together to hear the submissions of the parties, but he afterwards said it was when they meet together to inspect the premises. On either footing he would succeed in this case. The three here did not meet together until 10 o'clock on the Monday morning. The tenant's notice of withdrawal was received at any rate by 9.30 a. m. that morning. So it was received before they met together.

16

On the other hand, Mr. Slynn submits that it is not necessary for the three members to meet together. The Tribunal, he says, enters...

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