Student Bedsits Are Not 'Separate Dwellings'

In a decision of great importance to landlords of student accommodation, a tribunal has found that bedsits with communal facilities are not separate dwellings. The ruling meant that the tribunal had no power to consider an attempt by a group of students to have their service charges fixed by law.

The case concerned an old fire station that had been converted into student digs. It contained 96 bedsits, most of which had en suite shower rooms. In common with most student accommodation, tenants had access to communal living areas and kitchens, and only their bedrooms were fitted with locks.

A number of students who lived in the block applied to have their service charges fixed at a reasonable level under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. If the Act applied to them, service charges could only be levied in respect of sums reasonably incurred for works or services of a reasonable standard.

The landlord would also be required to provide information to tenants and consult with them before major works were carried out. There would be time limits set on the recovery of service charges and tenants would have access to the tribunal system for the determination of disputes. All those protections would, however, only be available if the bedsits were 'separate dwellings' within the meaning of the Act. The First-tier Tribunal (FTT) found that they were.

In ruling on the landlord's challenge to that decision, the Upper Tribunal found that in order to qualify as dwellings, the bedsits did not have to be someone's home. However, in upholding the appeal, it found that the extent of the communal facilities meant that the bedsits were not occupied as separate dwellings. The FTT thus had no jurisdiction to consider the tenants' application.

The decision in this case was made as a matter of fact, so is unlikely to be overturned. It has implications for anyone considering converting or building premises for multiple occupation. We can advise you on the applicable law.
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