Conditions imposed under HMO licence can be used to limit the class of persons for whom property is suitable

Monday 15 October 2018

Nottingham City Council v Parr [2018] UKSC 51

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The Respondents, Dominic Parr and Trevor Parr Associates Limited, owned two Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in Nottingham which they let to students. Both properties had attic bedrooms which, as a result of sloping ceilings, had only a small amount of usable space. The Respondents applied to the Appellant, Nottingham City Council, for HMO licences in respect of the properties. The licences were granted subject to a prohibition, imposed pursuant to s67 Housing Act 2004, on using the attic bedrooms for sleeping owing to their small size.

The Respondents appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) against the imposition of the conditions. The FTT allowed both appeals, taking the view that there was enough shared space in the properties (in the kitchen, living room etc.) to counter-balance the small size of the attic bedrooms and that since the occupiers were students they should be able to live ‘cohesively’ making appropriate use of the shared space. In one of the appeals the FTT substituted an alternative condition of its own, namely that:

‘The second floor front bedroom may only be used for sleeping accommodation by a person engaged in full-time education and who resides in the dwelling for a maximum period of 10 calendar months over a period of one year.’

In the other appeal, no such condition was imposed, but the FTT justified its conclusion on the basis that there were sufficient ‘compensating features’ in the property to make it suitable for ‘students or similar cohesive occupation’. The Upper Tribunal dismissed Nottingham’s appeal in both cases, and directed that the alternative condition imposed by the FTT should apply to both properties.

The Court of Appeal dismissed a further appeal but varied the licences to include two further conditions:

  1. that the communal space on the ground floor, comprising a kitchen/diner and living room area, be kept available for communal living space only;
  2. that no bedrooms may be let to persons other than students engaged in full-time education.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, Nottingham argued that the power to impose conditions under ss64 and 67 Housing Act 2004 could not be used to limit the class of persons for whom the HMO was suitable, and that the particular conditions imposed were irrational and unenforceable.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. The purpose of the imposition of conditions (as could be seen from s64(3)(a) Housing Act 2004) was to ‘make a house reasonably suitable for occupation by not more than the maximum number of households or persons specified in the application or decided by the housing authority’. The nature of those conditions was governed by s67, which permits a local authority to impose such conditions as are thought to be appropriate for regulating ‘the management, use and occupation of the house concerned’. A condition regulating the occupation of a property, adopting the natural interpretation of the phrase, would include a condition saying how or by whom the property should be occupied. This interpretation was entirely consistent with the object of the legislation.

The particular conditions imposed in this case were neither irrational nor unenforceable. However, since the 10-month requirement was intended to ensure the property was occupied by full-time students, it was no longer necessary in light of the second condition imposed by the Court of Appeal and would be deleted.

The judgment is available here: Nottingham City Council v Parr [2018] UKSC 51

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