Further Clarification on “What is a House”

13 November, 2015
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

In the recent case of Jewelcraft Ltd v Pressland (2015) the Court of Appeal has provided further guidance on the age old (well certainly since 1967) question of ‘what is a house?’

Under the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 a tenant of a house has the right to compulsorily acquire the freehold of the house from his landlord, subject to satisfaction of certain qualifying criteria. The definition of a ‘house’ contained in the 1967 Act includes the following wording;

“…any building designed or adapted for living in and reasonably so called, notwithstanding that the building is not structurally detached, or was or is not solely designed or adapted for living in…”

The case in question concerned a property with a shop on the ground floor and residential accommodation on the first floor.

The House of Lords previously considered a very similar situation in the case of Tandon v Trustees of Spurgeon’s Homes (1982). In that case it was held that Parliament clearly intended the traditional situation of a shop on the ground floor with a flat on the first floor to fall within the definition of a ‘house’.

This was the accepted view for a considerable period of time before the Court of Appeal raised doubt by finding that a similar property was not a ‘house’ in the case of Henley v Cohen (2013). However, the facts of that case were such that there have been doubts as to whether the decision would be followed in more typical situations. The property had been used solely for non-residential purposes since the lease was first granted in 1935, not as the traditional shop with shopkeeper’s accommodation above, until shortly before the claim was made and the conversion of the first floor into a flat was carried out in breach of the terms of the lease.

The Court of Appeal has now clarified that the approach adopted in Tandon is correct and Henley v Cohen can be distinguished due to its particular facts. The case of Jewelcraft Ltd v Pressland (2015) concerned a property at 373 Upper Richmond Road, London, SW15 which comprised a purpose built shop on the ground floor and flat on the first floor. As originally built, there was an internal staircase connecting the flat to the shop. In the 1970s there were alterations which resulted in the flat being self-contained and accessed by an external staircase to the rear, the internal staircase having been removed. The Court of Appeal held that such a property would fall within the definition of a ‘house’ for the purposes of the 1967 Act and the removal of the internal connection between the shop and flat did not bring it outside the scope of the legislation. As such, the tenant was entitled to proceed with their claim to acquire the freehold of the property.