Uratemp Ventures Ltd v Collins

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
Judgment Date11 October 2001
Neutral Citation[2001] UKHL 43
Date11 October 2001

[2001] UKHL 43


Lord Irvine of Lairg LC

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Steyn

Lord Hobhouse of Wood-borough

Lord Millett

Uratemp Ventures Limited
Collins (AP)

My Lords,


I have had the advantage of reading in draft the comprehensive judgment of my noble and learned friend, Lord Millett. I adopt his analysis of the facts, the relevant legislative histories and the authorities; and also the orders he proposes.


This appeal concerns the words, "a dwelling-house.……… let as a separate dwelling" in section 1 of the Housing Act 1988. A single room, as part of a house, may be a dwelling-house; and on this appeal there is no issue of shared accommodation or facilities. The key issue is: whether the room which Mr Collins occupied, in the Viscount Hotel, Prince of Wales Terrace, Kensington, when proceedings were brought, could in law qualify as a "dwelling" only if cooking facilities were there available. Unless constrained to the contrary by authority, I would impose no such restrictive interpretation. Such a restrictive interpretation would both be unwarranted by the statutory language and an inappropriate gloss on provisions designed to give some protection to tenants in modest rented accommodation under assured tenancies.


"Dwelling" is not a term of art, but a familiar word in the English language, which in my judgment in this context connotes a place where one lives, regarding and treating it as home. Such a place does not cease to be a "dwelling" merely because one takes all or some of one's meals out; or brings take-away food in to the exclusion of home cooking; or at times prepares some food for consumption on heating devices falling short of a full cooking facility.


Decisions on the infinite factual variety of cases are for judges of trial and their decisions on the facts of individual cases should neither be treated nor cited as propositions of law. I would not myself, for example, regard a bed, any more than cooking facilities, as an essential pre-requisite of a "dwelling": every case is for the judge of trial but I would have no difficulty with a conclusion that one could live in a room, which is regarded and treated as home, although taking one's sleep, without the luxury of a bed, in an armchair, or in blankets on the floor.


For these short reasons, along with those of Lord Bingham and Lord Steyn, I too would allow the appeal and make the orders my noble friend, Lord Millet, proposes.


My Lords,


I gratefully adopt the factual narrative given by my noble and learned friend Lord Millett, and also his summary of the relevant legislation and authorities.


Section 1 of the Housing Act 1988, which the House must construe, has a very long pedigree. For present purposes it poses two central questions. The first is whether the landlord has granted a tenancy of the premises in question or merely a licence to occupy them. That was a live question in the present case but one which, if relevant when the second question had been answered, would have had to be remitted to the county court. The second question is whether, if a tenancy be assumed, the premises which were let are a dwelling-house.


Much of the case law on this section and its predecessors has been directed to the requirement that the premises be let as a "separate" dwelling: see, in particular, Neale v Del Soto [1945] KB 144; Cole v Harris [1945] KB 474; Kenyon v Walker [1946] 2 All ER 595; Winters v Dance [1949] LJR 165; Baker v Turner [1950] AC 401; Hayward v Marshall [1952] 2 QB 89; Goodrich v Paisner [1957] AC 65; Marsh Ltd v Cooper [1969] 1 WLR 803; Parkins v Westminster City Council [1998] 1 EGLR 22. In these cases some space or facility was (or was said to be) enjoyed in common between the tenant and another or others, and the question was whether that which was enjoyed in common was of such a character or of such significance as to preclude description of what was let as a separate dwelling. In this context, distinctions were understandably and rightly drawn between living rooms, such as bedrooms and kitchens, and ancillary offices, such as bathrooms and lavatories: common enjoyment of the former but not the latter tended to weigh against recognition of the premises let as a separate dwelling.


None of these problems arises here. It is accepted (rightly, on the long-standing authority of Curl v Angelo [1948] 2 All ER 189) that a single room may be a dwelling-house. Mr Collins did not enjoy any space or facilities in common with other occupants. So the short question is whether room 403, the room let (as it is assumed) to Mr Collins, is a dwelling-house.


Save that a dwelling-house may be a house or part of a house (1988 Act, section 45(1)), no statutory guidance is given on the meaning of this now rather old-fashioned expression. But the concept is clear enough: it describes a place where someone dwells, lives or resides. In deciding in any given case whether the subject-matter of a letting falls within that description it is proper to have regard to the object of the legislation, directed as it is to giving a measure of security to those who make their homes in rented accommodation at the lower end of the housing market. It is not to be expected that such accommodation will necessarily offer all the amenities to be found in more expensive accommodation.


The time at which it has to be judged whether premises are entitled to protection is when action is brought: Baker v Turner [1950] AC 401 at 415, 419-420. At that stage it is necessary to consider the terms of the letting, the premises let and, in my opinion, the use made of them by the tenant: see section 1(1)(b) of the 1988 Act, which recognises that circumstances may change during the currency of a tenancy.


It appears, in the present case, that Mr Collins habitually used some electrical devices to warm food in his room before eating it. The room was equipped with a power point which permitted that. I doubt if what he did could properly be described as cooking, but I do not think it matters. It is in my view plain on the evidence that this room was Mr Collins' home, the place where he lived, and this is so whether he had his meals out or warmed up food to eat in his room or did a little rudimentary cooking or a bit of all three. If a room were so small and cramped as to be unable to accommodate a bed, I should be inclined to doubt whether it would qualify to be called a dwelling-house because, although sleeping in premises may not be enough to make them a dwelling-house, premises will not ordinarily be a dwelling-house unless the tenant sleeps there. But in my view the courts should be very wary of laying down inflexible rules which come to be mistaken for rules of law even though they are very largely conclusions of fact based on particular cases. That is what, as I think, has happened in this field, as Lord Millett has shown.


I am of the clear opinion that room 403, if let to Mr Collins under a tenancy, was let as a separate dwelling-house. For these short reasons, as well as those given by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Steyn and Lord Millett, I would allow this appeal. For reasons given by Lord Millett it is now inappropriate to remit the matter to the county court to determine whether there was a letting to Mr Collins. On 25 September 2000 the landlord, Uratemp Ventures Ltd, withdrew its opposition to this appeal. I agree with the costs order proposed by my noble and learned friend.


My Lords,


The question is whether a modest room in the Viscount Hotel, Prince of Wales Terrace, Kensington, occupied by Mr Collins is a dwelling-house. It arises under section 1 of the Housing Act 1988 which speaks of "a dwelling-house … let as a separate dwelling". Since Mr Collins did not share accommodation or facilities with other persons in the hotel the only issue before the House is whether the room occupied by Mr Collins is a "dwelling-house" within the meaning of section 1. Part of a house may be a dwelling-house: section 45(1). And it is common ground that a bed-sitting room may be a dwelling-house. But the majority in the Court of Appeal held that the particular room could not be a dwelling-house because of the absence of cooking facilities. They treated the presence of cooking facilities as an indispensable requirement for a person's home being a "dwelling-house" within the meaning of section 1. They thought that an observation in the leading judgment of Lord Templeman in Westminster City Council v Clarke [1992] 2 AC 288, 299A, compelled this conclusion. On this question 14 decisions of which 11 were of the Court of Appeal were cited to the House. Acknowledging that such "autopsies" have their value at times, Justice Cardozo famously described such examinations as "wearisome and gruesome scenes". In my view a resort to first principles points to a route through this jungle of judicial glosses on the meaning of dwelling-house.


The starting point must be that "dwelling-house" is not a term of art. It is an ordinary word in the English language. While I accept that dictionaries cannot solve issues of interpretation, it nevertheless is helpful to bear in mind that dwelling-house has for centuries been a word of wide import. It is often used interchangeably with lodging. It conveys the idea of a place where somebody lives: see Johnson's Dictionary, s.v. "dwelling-house" and Murray's Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "dwelling-house" and "lodging". In ordinary parlance a bed-sitting room where somebody habitually stays is therefore capable of being described as a dwelling-house. So much for generalities. The setting in which the word appears in the statute is important. It is used in legislation which is intended to afford...

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