Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd (1999)

English Family Law

Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd
‘Time Clock Houses’ by Sunita Khedekar

In this appeal case the relationship between a private tenant and potential successor was that of two men, and so upon the death of the elder partner, it was found that despite their twenty-year history and the deeply caring bonds between them, the wording of the Housing Act 1988 prevented the surviving party from inheriting the assured tenancy, and thereby remaining in occupation of the home they had once shared.

Due to the widening of interpretation concerning the proximity required to uphold succession it  had become possible to appeal against the original judgment, while on this occasion the appellant relied upon paras. 2(1) and 3 of the 1988 Act, the first of which placed importance on the spousal aspect of relationships (a section which further relied upon the assumption that the two parties were of opposite genders) and the second, which extended the right to succeed where those in occupancy at the time of the other’s death could show such living arrangements over a minimum two-year period under the scope of ‘family’.

The issue presented to the House of Lords was not one of spousal qualification, but rather agreement that despite the non-traditional relationship between the two men, there did exist an intimacy that by all accounts, could be construed as familial, and so after deliberate examination of both the statute’s breadth and a widening cultural shift towards the definition of ‘family’, prevailing judicial opinion upheld the appeal and so allowed him to enjoy the home shared with his partner in the years before and leading up to his passing.

“[T]wo people of the same sex can be regarded as having established membership of a family, one of the most significant of human relationships which both gives benefits and imposes obligations.”

Author: Neil Egan-Ronayne

Author and foodie...

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