A recent ruling in favour of a Manchester landlord could have significant implications for local authorities seeking to impose minimum room sizes on landlords on bedroom sizes in HMOs.
A council can set space standards for rooms in houses in multiple occupation, but must not exclude the possibility that a smaller room might still be acceptable, the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) has said.
The case arose over a house in Manchester where an additional small bedroom had been created by an unusual split-level adaptation.
Manchester City Council said it was too small to be used, but the home’s owner Dhugal Clark appealed to the First Tier Tribunal, which found for the council. Clark then appealed further.
In Clark v Manchester City Council  Deputy President Martin Rodger said it was obviously appropriate for a local housing authority to give guidance, both to its own officers and to the public, on how it intended to address the issue of a room’s suitability:
“What it could not do was to adopt mandatory standards non-compliance with which would result in a determination that a house was not suitable,” he noted. “To do that would be to fetter its own discretion, and to usurp the power of the Secretary of State to prescribe national standards. What was required in each case was a consideration of the room and the property as a whole on their merits, rather than by reference to a fixed minimum floor area.”
The judge said it was “clearly permissible” for a local housing authority to give guidance on what factors it would take into account in determining whether a house was reasonably suitable for use as an HMO by a certain number of occupiers.
The size of the accommodation was obviously a relevant factor in any such assessment, the Deputy President said.
“I see no reason why guidance should not identify a specific room size which will ordinarily be regarded as too small to provide adequate sleeping accommodation. Such guidance should not exclude the possibility that a room which falls short of the recommended size will nonetheless be capable of being taken into account as sleeping accommodation if other circumstances mean that, viewed as a whole, the house is reasonably suitable for the stated number. Guidance on how space with restricted head height, such as beneath a sloping ceiling, ought to be treated is also appropriate, but again subject to the possibility of exceptions.”
Reporting on the issue the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) said local councils cannot make blanket regulations regarding the size of bedrooms in a property, as Manchester City Council recently attempted, and instead must consider each property on its own merit.
The situation stemmed from a DWP case regarding bedroom tax last year, where defendants claimed that rooms could not be bedrooms because of their size.
The DWP ruled that size has nothing to do with the space functioning as a bedroom, and it would be clear if a room was being used as a bedroom. This led to the need for inspections and case-by-case taxing.
The RLA responded by saying licensing consultations questioning bedroom size requirements are unacceptable, so the Association welcomes this news.
Bedroom Sizes in HMOs – Recent Ruling could have "Significant Implications" – http://t.co/zPUgs2TuQJ
— LandlordZONE (@LandlordZONE) April 21, 2015