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The burgeoning demand for rented accommodation has encouraged some landlords to create flats which are not large enough to swing a proverbial cat. However, as a decision of the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) strikingly showed, local authorities have the power to clamp down on such overcrowding and to bring the property owners responsible to book.
The case concerned a four-storey house which had been converted into seven self-contained flats, measuring from 17.47 square metres to just 10 square metres. Each flat comprised a single room in which tenants were expected to carry out all the activities of daily life, including cooking, eating and sleeping. Small areas were partitioned off for use as toilet and shower rooms.
After the local authority exercised a power of entry under the Housing Act 2004, prohibition orders were served on the property's owner in respect of each of the flats, on the basis that they presented a serious overcrowding hazard. Following various works and negotiations, the scope of the orders was narrowed and, in relation to three of the flats, revoked.
The owner challenged the remaining orders before the FTT but, save in respect of a lighting issue concerning one of the flats, which had been remedied, the appeal was dismissed. The FTT found that the extremely small size of each of the flats amounted to a category 1 hazard.
The flats were too small to enable separating out of different household activities and normal socialising with family and friends. Tenants occupying them for more than a year would be placed at increased risk of suffering anxiety, distress and other forms of psychological harm. The owner was ordered to contribute towards the expenses incurred by the local authority in pursuing the matter.