In an important ruling for private landlords of student accommodation, the High Court has ruled that a purpose-built block of self-contained ‘cluster flats’ does not require to be licensed as a house in multiple occupation (HMO) by the local authority in whose area it is situated.
By article 3(1) of the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Description) (England) Order 2006, such licences are required where a property comprises three storeys or more and is occupied by five or more persons, living in two or more households. It was argued by the local authority that the relevant student accommodation block met those criteria.
However, in refusing the local authority’s application for declaratory relief to that effect, the court ruled that, on a correct interpretation of article 3(1), the cluster flats within the block were each to be viewed as an independent property, none of which comprised three or more storeys.
The court observed: “It is the HMO that must comprise three storeys and not the building in which an HMO happens to be found. The hapless tenant of a purpose-built flat in a tower block who sub-lets a flat to two households of five people should not be at risk of prosecution for failing to obtain a licence as the order was not intended to apply in those circumstances”.