News has reached us from RH Environmental of a case in Bristol Magistrates on HMO licensing and the counting of storeys. Unfortunately it is not binding but it is nonetheless interesting.
The case involves the licensing status of a two storey maisonette on the first and second floor of a property. There was accordingly (as tenants don’t fly) a separate private entrance and staircase leading from ground to first floor. Both sides agreed it was an HMO. The dispute was over whether it was a two or three storey HMO, three storey HMOs being subject to mandatory licensing. The report is limited but I am guessing the issue was actually about Article 3(3)(a)(iv) of the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Descriptions) (England) Order 2006. This deals with the counting of storeys outside the main ambit of the HMO as part of it for the purposes of deciding whether or not they are licensable and specifically says that a basement must be counted if it is the principal entrance from the street. I suspect the argument was then about whether the meaning of basement here was a natural English meaning of below ground level or whether it simply meant a level below that of the main HMO. Clearly the first interpretation won out.
While this is not a binding decision, unless someone appeals to the High Court by way of case stated, it does show a change in the way these things are being dealt with. Councils are pursuing more marginal prosecutions now and testing the edges of the legislation in the courts. At the same time courts are tending toward a natural language reading of much of the legislation and taking a reasonably sensible view of who can be prosecuted.
*Title courtesy of NL’s fertile mind