How Important is the Deed of Assignment?

Case Analysis – Cenolli v Cenolli 

An assignment is the formal transfer of a legal interest in land. In a housing context, it is the transfer of a secure or assured tenancy during the lifetime of the tenant.  

Think of it like one person (the ‘assignee’) stepping into the shoes of another person (the ‘assignor/original tenant’).  

An assignment does not mean that a new tenancy is signed, but that the existing (original) tenancy is transferred to somebody else.  

Assignment was considered recently by the Central London County Court in the case of Cenolli v Cenolli. This case illustrates the importance of following your organisation’s internal procedures and highlights the significance of good record keeping.   

In this case, the Claimant was the Defendant’s daughter. 

The Defendant had been a secured tenancy for approximately 19 years. The landlord was the Local Authority. 

In 2017 there was an application to assign the tenancy from the Defendant to the Claimant and the council told the Claimant that she was now the tenant. 

In 2019 the Defendant brought proceedings against the council for a declaration she was the tenant in the High Court. This claim was struck out. Importantly, in that case the Local Authority could not locate the deed of assignment.   

The Defendant followed by bringing a claim in the Family Court against the Claimant for an Injunction, requiring her to permit the Defendant to occupy the property. The family court lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the case.  

The Claimant then brought a claim for possession of the Property against the Defendant. The Defendant counterclaimed for a declaration that she was the tenant of the flat.  

The Court dismissed the claim for possession and gave the Defendant judgement on her counterclaim. She was still the tenant. 

This was predominately because neither the Claimant nor the Local Authority produced the Deed of Assignment.  

There was simply little evidence to suggest there had been a correctly executed and valid Deed of Assignment.  

This case reminds us that: 

  • There MUST be a correctly executed Deed of Assignment to legally transfer a tenancy agreement during someone’s lifetime. 
  • You MUST retain a copy of the Deed of Assignment. 
  • You should ALWAYS follow your internal policy and procedure when dealing with any assignment request. 
  • Detailed records should be kept of communications with tenants. 

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If you would like any further advice on Tenancy Assignment, please contact our specialist Housing Team at MSB.