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Offices occupied by property guardians was a house in multiple occupation and required a HMO licence

The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) ("UT") has upheld a decision of the First Tier Tribunal ("FTT") that offices, occupied by property guardians, constituted a house in multiple occupation ("HMO") and, as a HMO, required a licence.

In general terms a HMO is a building occupied by three or more people who do not form a single household and who share the buildings facilities / amenities. Serious consequences can apply to a person who controls and manages a HMO without a licence. As well as financial sanctions (fines and rent repayment orders) it is also a criminal offence to manage or have control of an unlicensed or non-compliant building, except in a limited number of circumstances.

In the case of Global 100 Ltd v Jimenez and others the building in question was 35 – 37 William Road, Euston, London, which was a five storey office building comprising a suite of three offices with a communal bathroom on the adjoining landing.  At least one of the rooms was crammed with racking and cabinets, which had previously held computer servers and was unusable as living space.

Upon the commercial occupant vacating the building, property guardians were installed.  There is no statutory or official definition of a property guardian.  However, a property guardian is generally understood to be someone who has entered into an agreement to live in a building or part of a building, that would otherwise be empty, for the purpose of securing and safeguarding the property from trespass or damage.  When the local authority housing officers inspected the building, in November 2020, they reported that between 10 and 12 individuals were in residence.

One of the conditions for a HMO is that the living accommodation constitutes the only use of that accommodation.  In this case the UT were not persuaded by the arguments put forward on behalf of Global 100 Ltd that the occupants living in the building were also there to provide the building with security.  Accordingly, they held (agreeing with the FTT) that the building was a HMO, which needed a licence and, in turn, required the accommodation to meet certain standards.

The outcome of this case is likely to mean that many buildings occupied by property guardians will require a HMO licence.  The UT did suggest that if a property was protected by professional security guards around the clock this would not change the use of the building to living accommodation.  Therefore, it is possible that the UT’s decision may not apply where the property guardians are under a clear obligation to undertake security duties and to provide regular reports or updates.

However, the UT’s judgment in this case does indicate that the UT is eager to maintain the protection afforded by the HMO regime and to protect people who occupy such accommodation.  Accordingly, property owners and occupiers should be cautious, when using property guardians, to ensure that they do not fall foul of the obligations under the legislation relating to accommodation falling within the HMO regime.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need support in a property litigation matter or wish to discuss any other aspect of property litigation, please click here.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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