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What is a ‘House’ for Leasehold Enfranchisement Purposes? High Court Rules

What is a house? Most people would think there is a simple answer to that question but it is an issue that has taxed lawyers ever since the introduction of leaseholder rights to acquire the freehold of the properties which they occupy.

A company which held a lease in respect of a mews house sought a declaration under the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 that it was entitled to acquire the property’s freehold. That application was resisted by the landlord on the basis that the property was excluded from being a ‘house’ by Section 2(2) of the Act. The tenant’s arguments, however, succeeded before a judge.

In challenging that decision, the landlord pointed out that the two-storey property was not detached, either to the sides or to the rear, and that the party wall it shared with the premises behind it was considerably taller. On that basis, it was submitted that a material section of the property – its rear wall – lay below a part of a structure which was not itself comprised in the property.

In rejecting the appeal, however, the High Court noted that there was no dog-leg or kink in the sheer flank wall. Even if one considered the thickness of a single brick as an overhang, it was trivial and did not exclude the property from enfranchisement. The Court found that to allow the legal division of a party wall to disqualify the property from enfranchisement would be inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. Such a ruling would be likely to deprive many leaseholders of a right which Parliament had intended to confer upon them.