Tuesday 24 October 2017

Judges rule house is block of flats

A building in Sloane Square has been at the centre of a dispute as to whether it is a 'house' or a 'block of flats'
A building in Sloane Square has been at the centre of a dispute as to whether it is a 'house' or a 'block of flats'

Three leading judges have told how they heard argument from two top barristers and analysed 11 court rulings when trying to decide whether a six-storey building in one of the most fashionable parts of London was "a house".

Lord Neuberger, The Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Longmore and Lord Justice Lewison said they also carried out "extensive historical research" before concluding that the building - which contained six "residential suites" and three "small shops" - would be better described as a "block of flats".

The panel - sitting in the Court of Appeal in London - analysed the "house" question when hearing details of a legal dispute between the building's owners and a tenant. Appeal judges dismissed an attempt to overrule an earlier decision by county court judge Hazel Marshall QC.

She had examined the nature of building opposite Sloane Square London Underground station in Chelsea and concluded: "When I ask myself what this building is, my immediate reaction is, 'it's a block of flats'."

Lord Justice Lewison, who delivered the five-page appeal court ruling, said the "sole issue" was whether the building was "a house" for the purposes of "section 2(1) of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967".

"It is regrettable that an issue of this kind involves analysis of many decisions of (the Court of Appeal) and of the House of Lords; and in the present case has also involved an extensive historical investigation into the initial construction and subsequent use of the building," said Lord Justice Lewison.

"We have been referred to eight cases in the Court of Appeal on the meaning of the word 'house' in section 2 (1) and three cases in the House of Lords."

He said Judge Marshall - who gave a 50-page ruling in November 2011 after a hearing in the Central London County Court - had decided that it was "not reasonable to call this building a house".

Lord Justice Lewison added: "In my judgment the judge made no error of law in her approach to the question. She was amply justified in the conclusion that she reached. I would dismiss the appeal."

Appeal judges, who heard argument from senior barristers representing the two opposing sides at a hearing earlier this month, gave no clue as to costs of the case - but legal sources estimated that they would run into thousands of pounds.

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