Whether the partner of a dead Rent Act protected tenant can remain on in a residential property as “the surviving spouse” depends on paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 1 of the Rent Act 1977 (“paragraph 2(1)”). If they do not qualify as such they can be ordered to vacate the property.
In Northumberland & Durham Property Trust Ltd v Ouaha 
the issue before the Court of Appeal was whether Latisah Ouaha (“the Appellant”) was “the surviving spouse” of Mr Khawan Al-Faisal (“Mr Al-Faisal”) when he died on 19 November 2010 so as to become the statutory tenant of Flat 15, 1 Royal Avenue House, London, SW3 4QD (the “property”) after his death.
The Appellant had gone through a Sharia ceremony of marriage with Mr Al-Faisal in England in 1987 and contended that the words “the surviving spouse” should be given a wide meaning.
This marriage was accepted before the previous judge and the Court of Appeal to have been what the precedent cases of Dukali v Lamrani  and Shagroon v Sharbatly  categorised as a non marriage for the purposes of section 12 and part 3 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1984.
In 1988, Mr Al-Faisal seemed to have married a second wife, possibly in Saudi Arabia, which would have been polygamous if the Appellant’s marriage to him had been valid.
The Court of Appeal said that where a marriage ceremony was being relied on, the words “the surviving spouse” obviously contemplated, as a minimum, a person who had become legally the wife or husband in the country in which the ceremony took place.
Here there was no formal marriage ceremony valid under the law of England, where the ceremony had taken place, that the Appellant could point to. So her claim to be a “surviving spouse” did not…….reach the starting blocks.”
It may be that some or all foreign ceremonies of marriage would allow a person to qualify, but the court did not feel any need to rule on that.
The judge at first instance had gone further and said that the only way a person can qualify as “the surviving spouse” for paragraph 2(1) was by showing that they underwent a ceremony of marriage valid under the Marriage Acts. But the court had no need to make a ruling on that narrower point, either, and was disinclined to pin its colours to that particular mast.
This blog has been posted as a matter of general interest and does not remove the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.