How Small Is Too Small?

How Small Is Too Small?

We have many members who are unhappy with PCC’s rules on communal space in HMO’s – the rules seem to have grown over the past 10 years in an attempt to provide a basis to reject HMO’s which are seen as ‘too densely developed’ by councillors and local residents. We are now at a point where PCC ask for more communal space than any other council in the country (and in many cases, 2 or 3 times more than most councils).

It was thus somewhere between shock and amusement that we heard PCC had lost a case where they tried to stop a very small flat from being let.

In this case, very small was 11.92 square metres in total.  That is living area, kitchen, bathroom, sleeping quarters and entrance hallway all squeezed into a space which, if it was square, would be less than 3m x 4m (think 10x13 in old money). I know many of us would agree that this is too small – but conversely, if it provides a basic and affordable home for someone who would otherwise be homeless, which is better? Also, a bedsit of this size in a house with no communal space is acceptable under current rules so why not a 1 person flat?

Unfortunately, for PCC, their own Planning Dept had approved this conversion from commercial to residential in Arundel Street so it was argued that the property had only been developed because PCC had condoned it, so it was not fair for PCC to then forbid it to be let.  (Am sure the councillors on the Planning Committee will say that government rules on Permitted Development were used and they had no grounds to object, which is true, but the fact is they approved the development).

The PCC case was predicated on their assertion that the lack of space was a category 1 (danger to life) HHSRS hazard.  We have commented before about PCC's inappropriate use of HHSRS category 1 issues as the basis of enforcement and in this case, the judge confirmed that there was no category 1 issue at the property. It was also unfortunate that PCC quoted overcrowding as their reason it should not be let – the judge rightly concluded that a property that had not yet been let could not be overcrowded as it was empty. This is just one more case of misplaced confidence in inappropriate standards which we see all too often, as the judge said in his summary, “this appears to be based on a policy of PCC’s housing department regarding room sizes which has no statutory force” and went on to state, “The Council was unable to demonstrate that sufficient care had been taken in interpreting the numerous conflicting space standards when applying them to the subject premises”. The final decision was that “the Tribunal is not satisfied that the Council has made its case for a Category 1 hazard of Crowding & Space accordingly a Prohibition Order is not the appropriate action for the Council to take.”

While on the subject of space standards, we note yet another landlord has appealed an attempt to have his occupancy numbers reduced and won. The London Tribunal approved a maisonette in Camden for 5 persons with communal space of 13.2 square metres in a kitchen/diner with no other space available.  It has less communal space than all of the properties that our Tribunal said were too small for 5 and here, PCC would have asked for a lounge as well as the kitchen diner  or at least 24 square metres of communal space.

Unfortunately, we fear that debates such as this one will continue until an evidence based solution is produced and formally consulted upon - lets hope that this forms part of the new local strategy being developed this year. 

Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.

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