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Upper Tribunal revisits "What is an HMO?"

It is vital that landlords, tenants and local authorities all understand when a property should properly be classed as a House in Multiple Occupation (“HMO”). Christopher Hoskins outlines a recent Upper Tribunal case which revisited this issue as it affects blocks of self-contained flats.

In the case of Hastings Borough Council v Turner [2020] UKUT 184 (LC), Ms Turner was one of four registered owners of the freehold to a five-storey, late Victorian house which had long since been converted into self-contained flats. She also held the long lease of the ground floor flat she occupied within the same building.

Hastings Borough Council (“HBC”) had written to the freeholders advising them they needed to apply for an HMO licence for the building and one of them had duly done so on behalf of all the freeholders. HBC later gave notice that it intended to grant the licence. Ms Turner objected due to concerns about the impact that HMO status would have upon her including through increased insurance costs. She appealed and succeeded in persuading the First Tier Tribunal that the property was not an HMO so did not require licensing. The licence was duly revoked and HBC appealed.

The rules for what amounts to an HMO can be found within the Housing Act 2004. They capture circumstances in which a building (or part of one) is a converted block of self-contained flats where the work to convert them did not comply with the appropriate building standards and still does not. Further, less than two thirds of the flats must be owner occupied for it to be an HMO.

In the Turner case, the First Tier Tribunal had determined that the building was not an HMO because HBC had failed to provide “…   evidence of an examination of the building by anyone to find out whether any lack of building standards exists.” The Upper Tribunal overturned that decision finding instead that the building was indeed an HMO. It had been for Ms Turner to prove that the building complied with the appropriate (1991) building regulations as the person contesting HBC’s decision to grant the licence. She had provided no such evidence.

The effect of this judgment is that anyone wishing to contest a licensing authority’s designation of a converted block of self-contained flats as an HMO going forward must be able to provide evidence that the conversion complied with the relevant building regulations that were in place at the time or was otherwise exempt.

Christopher Hoskins is a barrister at No5

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