Most people would consider they have a firm understanding of the meaning of ‘house’.
However, for the purposes of enfranchisement under s.2(1) Leasehold Reform Act 1967 (“the Act”), the defining features of a house have proved rather tricky to pin down over the years. Mercifully, in the case of Day & Anor v Hosebay Limited, the Supreme Court recently considered the question of what makes a building a house. Lord Carnwath, giving the sole judgment, delivered some helpful and long overdue guidance on the matter.
In the appeals, the Respondents each owned leasehold property interests and were seeking to exercise their rights to enfranchisement under the Act. Both of the buildings under consideration were originally designed and built as residential properties, but at the date of trial were entirely used for commercial purposes, one as offices and the other as a ‘self-catering hotel’. The Court of Appeal held that under the strict terms of the Act, it was obliged to find the properties were ‘houses’, although that was undoubtedly not the intention of Parliament.
The Supreme Court disagreed, rejecting a ‘literalist’ approach to the definition and holding that neither property was a house under the Act. Lord Carnwath considered that the Act required “a simple way of defining the present identity or function of a building as a house, by reference to its current physical character, whether derived from its original design or from subsequent adaptation”. He went on to state that adaptation meant nothing more than “made suitable” although he clarified that the word applied to the building itself and not just its contents, so a mere change of furniture would not be enough to change the function.
Applying the test to the two properties under consideration, neither was found to be a house for the purposes of the Act. The physical appearance of the properties, both of which still looked like residential houses from the outside, was not enough to displace the current commercial user for which they had been adapted.
Helen Turnbull / 12th Nov 2012
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