To most people, ‘dwelling’ is just a fancy term for ‘home’ or possibly ‘house’. However, the difference in the meaning of words is a common source of legal dispute, as was illustrated in a recent case that also has significance for tenants of holiday park homes and similar properties and their landlords.
The case concerned bungalows at a holiday park in Cornwall. As is common in such cases, the planning permission under which they had been built prohibited permanent occupation of the bungalows, which were stipulated as being for holiday purposes only. The tenants also covenanted with the park owner landlord ‘not to use the…bungalow for any purpose other than that of a holiday bungalow’. It was recognised that this restriction was not adhered to by several of the tenants.
As is also normal, the tenants were required to contribute to the costs of maintaining the site, etc. by payment of service charges. The dispute arose because some of the owners claimed that the service charges were excessive and relied on the Landlord and Tenant Act, which provides that only reasonable service charges can be recovered from tenants of ‘a dwelling’. Specifically, the Act defines a dwelling as ‘a building or part of a building intended to be occupied as a separate dwelling…’. The tenants applied to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) for a ruling on the fairness of the charges.
The LVT refused to hear their claim on the ground that the holiday bungalows were not dwellings since they could not be used as permanent residences. The tenants appealed.
The question that needed to be settled was whether a home can be a dwelling, for the purposes of the Act, if it is a place in which a person cannot permanently reside. Unfortunately for the tenants, the Lands Tribunal could not agree that the protection offered by the Landlord and Tenant Act was intended to apply to premises such as the bungalows in this case.