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Small Attic Bedrooms Big Enough for Students Court of Appeal Rules

In an important decision for owners of student accommodation or houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), the Court of Appeal has ruled that a licensing condition that restricted occupation of two small attic bedrooms to full-time students was lawful.

The rooms were both located in semi-detached houses owned by the same landlord. The local authority took the view that, due to their sloping ceilings, their usable floor areas fell below its benchmark figure of eight square metres. In licensing both houses as HMOs under the Housing Act 2004, it imposed conditions requiring that neither room should be used as a bedroom on the basis that they were not reasonably suitable for occupation as such.

After the landlord appealed, the First-tier Tribunal found that the rooms were acceptable for use as bedrooms by full-time students and amended the licences accordingly. It did so on the basis that students who were sharing digs could be expected to live cohesively as a group. The houses included sufficient shared space to counter-balance the small size of the attic rooms. That decision was subsequently upheld by the Upper Tribunal.

In dismissing the council’s challenge to the latter ruling, the Court rejected arguments that the physical characteristics of the properties alone were relevant for the purposes of the HMO licensing regime. On a true interpretation of the relevant statutory provisions, the personal characteristics of potential occupiers could also be taken into account. The council’s plea that the ‘students only’ condition would be incapable of effective enforcement also fell on fallow ground.