Landlord association calls the case ‘shocking’ and a waste of taxpayers money
Nottingham City Council has spent more than £95,000 of taxpayers money taking a landlord to court on the size of two student bedrooms – and lost on every occasion.
Council officers were so unhappy with the judge’s findings at a county court hearing that they appealed the decision.
The case was then heard at an upper tribunal at the High Court when, again, the decision weighed in favour of the landlord.
But the local authority continued to battle the verdict taking the case to both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, where they lost again.
A Freedom of Information Request shows from November 2014 to October 2018, the council has spent a total of £95,742 taking the case to different courts.
This includes £86,990 for legal costs, £1,405 on travel, and £7,347 on council staff.
Giles Inman, business development manager for East Midlands Property Owners, one of the largest landlord associations in Nottingham, called the case “shocking”.
He said: “In these times of austerity we are told the council does not have any money for this or that but they do for a nonsense case.
“If you go to a tribunal and you lose, okay, you appeal again at an upper tribunal but then you would give up.
“But they went to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court and lost. It is just shocking.
“It is public money. When you look at the costs it is astonishing. We fell off our chairs when we saw how much. I have never come across something like this before.”
The case involved two HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupancy) in Rothesay Avenue and Bute Avenue in Lenton, managed by landlord Dominic Parr.
Both are used for letting to students and in each case the attics have been converted into bedrooms.
The council says in the case of HMO bedrooms, where there is adequate dining space elsewhere and where cooking facilities are not provided in the room, the minimum space provision is eight square metres.
In each property the front attic bedroom has a sloping ceiling which reduces the area regarded by the council as “useable living space.”
In each case Nottingham granted a new HMO licence which imposed a condition prohibiting the use of the attic bedroom for sleeping.
However, each court agreed with the landlord and concluded the rooms were adequate for that use.
The council argued there was “a matter of principle at stake” and students “shouldn’t have to accept a lower standard of living in the case of smaller bedrooms”.
The court heard at Rothesay Avenue the front attic room has a total floor area of 9.75 square metres but, due to the sloping ceiling, only 5.89 square metres has a floor to ceiling height of 1.53 metres or more.
The front attic room at Bute Avenue has a floor area of approximately 11 square metres of which only 6.89 square metres has a floor to ceiling height of 1.53 metres or more.
The council also said on October 1, new national regulation came into force meaning one of these bedrooms is now too small for occupation and changes will need to be made.
Councillor Linda Woodings, portfolio holder for housing and planning at Nottingham City Council, said: “We believe as a matter of principle and fairness that there should be a minimum acceptable bedroom size that applies to everyone.
“We were therefore disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling because in effect, it means one group of people are being forced to accept a lower standard of accommodation than others.
“There is a real concern that this could be the thin end of the wedge and that the same interpretation could be applied to other minimum standards for HMOs such as the number and size of bathroom or kitchen facilities.
“The Supreme Court ruling is based on the law as it stands but the Government supported the council’s appeal so we hope it will seriously consider revising the existing legislation to end this unfair anomaly.
“We felt strongly that there was a significant issue of unfairness at stake, which meant that tenants living in shared accommodation were at risk of suffering poorer quality housing than someone living in exactly the same house but on a separate tenancy.
“We aim to achieve quality housing for all, not just some, which is why we were prepared to take this case through the courts and had support from Government on our position, so it’s disappointing the Supreme Court ruled as it did.”