As reported in our Law-Now of 10 May 2012 the word “house” is one of the 200 most frequently used words in the English language and one of the 20 most frequently used nouns.  However an unintended consequence of the abolition of the residence test for enfranchisement claims in 2002 has led to a spate of decisions in the Appellate Courts on the question of what constitutes a house for the purposes of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967.  The Supreme Court has today handed down the eagerly anticipated decision in the joined appeals of Day -v- Hosebay and Howard de Walden Estates -v- Lexgorge.  The former concerned buildings originally constructed as houses but now used as a self-catering hotel and the latter a building originally constructed as a house and now in use as a solicitors' office.

Section 2(1) of the 1967 Act defines “house” as including any building designed or adapted for living in and reasonably so called.  The Supreme Court was therefore concerned with two separate but overlapping questions (i) is the building one “designed or adapted for living in”? (ii) “is it a house….reasonably so called”?

In Hosebay the appeal was allowed on the basis that a building which is wholly used as a self catering hotel is not a house reasonably so called.  The fact that the buildings might look like houses and might be referred to as houses for some purposes was not in the Supreme Court’s view sufficient to displace the fact that their use was entirely commercial.  The Supreme Court did not reach a concluded view on the question of whether the premises were designed or adapted for living in, finding only that “living in” means something more settled than “staying in” and that the present use did not qualify as such.

In Lexgorge the appeal was allowed on similar grounds.  A building wholly used for offices, whatever its original design or current appearance, is not a house reasonably so called.  The fact that it was designed as a house and was still described as a house for many purposes, including architectural histories, was beside the point.

While landlords of buildings originally constructed as houses but now solely in commercial use may breathe a sigh of relief it is a little disappointing that the Supreme Court has not taken the opportunity to provide a more comprehensive framework for deciding what does constitute a house for the purposes of the 1967 Act.  Accordingly this is unlikely to be the last word on the subject.