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Landlord wins dispute with local authority over students in HMO

The Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of a landlord who was in dispute with his local council over accommodation for students in two houses in multiple occupation (HMO).

The landlord had been granted HMO licences by the authority in relation to the two properties.

Each property had a bedroom in the attic, but the licences prohibited the use of those rooms for sleeping because once the sloping ceilings had been taken into account, the useable living space fell below the authority’s minimum requirement of 8sq metres.

The landlord appealed to the First-tier Tribunal, which considered a practice note from the Institute of Environmental Health Officers recommending a minimum bedroom size of 6.5sq metres.

The tribunal also considered the authority’s own statement that a degree of flexibility would sometimes be possible if other compensating features were present in the house such as a large communal living space.

The tribunal concluded that the attic rooms were adequate as study/bedrooms “where cohesive living is envisaged” and that there were sufficient compensating features in the houses to make them suitable for student or similar cohesive occupation for six people.

The council’s licence conditions were deleted and, in relation to the first property, the tribunal imposed an alternative condition that the room could only be used for sleeping by a full-time student who resided in the house for a maximum of 10 months per year.

The Upper Tribunal (UT) agreed that ruling and imposed the same condition on the second property.

The Court of Appeal has upheld those decisions. It held that the tribunal and the UT had been satisfied that, if inhabited by a student who was able to share communal living space, the accommodation was not sub-standard. As there were no prescribed standards for the size of bedrooms, that was a value judgement which the tribunals had been entitled to reach. It did not disclose any error of law.

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