The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) has been granted permission to evict a woman from a house in Chaguanas she has been unlawfully occupying for over a decade.
Delivering a judgment on Friday, High Court Judge Ricky Rahim upheld HDC’s case against Esther Cruickshank over control of the property in Edinburgh 500.
According to the evidence in the case, the lawsuit dealt with a property that the HDC leased to a family for 30 years in 1990 to construct a home.
After the family left the lot vacant, the HDC constructed a home on it for the family in 2012.
The HDC only learned that the house was being occupied by Cruickshank and not the family five years later when it sought to renew the family’s lease for 199 years in 2017.
Although the HDC informed Cruickshank that she was occupying the property illegally she denied any wrongdoing.
Cruickshank claimed that in early 2012 she met with former Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal and requested his assistance in finding housing as she had just left an abusive relationship.
She claimed that she worked on a project with a community activist on abandoned and vandalised houses in the community and pointed out the house to Moonilal.
She claimed that Moonilal gave her oral permission to occupy the house and she spent over $100,000 to make it habitable.
She claimed that Moonilal introduced her to the HDC’s then-manager of allocation and distribution Lauren Ann Legall to assist.
While she admitted that Legall told her about the property being leased to the family, she claimed that she (Legall) assured her that the property could still be assigned to her.
In his judgment, Justice Rahim noted that while Cruickshank made a housing application to the HDC in 2003, it remained dormant until 2014 when she was interviewed.
He ruled that she did not go past that stage and her application essentially remained dormant.
While Justice Rahim ruled that the Housing Minister did have the power to instruct the HDC to assign housing in special and emergency cases, he noted that Moonilal did not make any official decision in relation to Cruickshank based on its records.
However, he took issue with the fact that she did not seek to have Moonilal or Legall to testify in her defence.
“The defendant’s evidence on this issue is in the view of the court poor at best,” Justice Rahim said.
While he noted that Cruickshank’s alleged conversations with Moonilal expressing interest in the property were plausible, he questioned her claim that he orally assigned it to her.
“The court does not however accept that it is more likely than not that a Minister would make the call to have a unit allocated to a person without ascertaining the facts of ownership of the unit or the land upon which it stood,” he said.
“In all the evidence amounts to nothing more than utterances by the defendant (which themselves appear contradictory to some extent), that the Minister either recommended or allocated the unit to her,” he added.
While Justice Rahim ruled that the HDC was entitled to evict her, he dismissed its claim for compensation for trespass.
“The court is of the view that none ought to be awarded in light of the work done to the unit by the defendant which work benefits the claimant,” he said.
As part of his decision, Justice Rahim issued an injunction barring Cruickshank from the property. She was also ordered to pay the HDC $28,000 in legal costs.
Justice Rahim applied a 30-day stay of execution on his judgment.
The HDC was represented by Kerwyn Garcia, SC, while Asha Watkins-Montserin represented Cruickshank.