Not Ashored

Awful title due to NL himself.

Mew v Tristmire concerned whether or not two “houseboats” were “dwelling houses let as separate dwellings” as required in section 1 of the Housing Act 1988 in order for them to be assured tenancies.

The “houseboats” appear to have been converted WWII landing craft that were, in the event, not used in the D-Day invasion. Both rested on wooden platforms so that they did not rise and fall with the tide. Both could be lifted off the platforms and removed, although one, “Emily” was fixed to an additional structure that had been added some 5 years previously and which would be damaged or destroyed if “Emily” was moved.

The court took the “houseboats” status as “dwelling houses” depended on their forming a part of the land, which in turn depended on their degree of annexation. Readers may be familiar with the considerable case law that has built up around the question of annexation and the fertile source of argument to which it can give rise, particular in the context of business tenancies.

The court considered, on the one hand, Elitestone v Morris, where a bungalow had been constructed in situ. The House of Lords held that, although it merely rested on some concrete pillars by its own weight — and so was not strictly speaking “fixed” to the land — it could only be removed by demolition and thus was properly speaking a part of the land.

On the other hand was Chelsea Yacht & Boat Co Ltd v Pope where a houseboat that was moored to the banks of the Thames (and a pontoon) could be untied (and the mains services disconnected) and floated away was found to be chattel that did not form a part of the realty.

The court considered that the condition of the houseboats at the time they were installed was relevant. At that time, on the findings of the first instance judge, the houseboats were capable of being floated away, even though now they had deteriorated to a point where removal would mean their destruction. As a result the case was more like Chelsea Yacht than Elitestone. The houseboats continued to be chattels and so could not be dwelling houses. The tenants of the houses could not, therefore be assured tenancies.

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