12 February, 2009
Figures from the preliminary findings from the Survey of English Housing 2007/08, combined with housing data from the 2008 Labour Force Survey states that almost 565,000 households in England are living in overcrowded homes, with just less than three per cent of households in cramped conditions. In London there were 200,000 instances of overcrowding, with three-quarters of those being in the socially rented sector.
With homelessness charities claiming that the actual figures could be even higher, this is a very real and serious issue that needs to be tackled by all organisations involved with housing.
A property is defined as overcrowded, for the purposes of Part X of the Housing Act 1985 when the number of persons sleeping in the house is such as to contravene either:
The room standard is breached when the number of persons sleeping in a dwelling (excluding those under 10 years of age) and the number of rooms available as sleeping accommodation is such that two persons of the opposite sex, who are not living together as man and wife, must sleep in the same room.
The space standard is contravened when the number of persons sleeping in the dwelling (excluding those under 1 year of age; children between 1 and 10 are deemed as half units) is in excess of the permitted number, having regard to the number and floor area of the rooms of the dwelling available as sleeping accommodation. The 'permitted number' is calculated by applying the maximum number specified by the relevant Tables in the Act, on a per room or per surface area basis.
Under the Act, the occupier of a dwelling who causes or permits it to be overcrowded, commits a summary offence and is liable on conviction to a fine and to a further fine not exceeding one tenth of the amount originally imposed, for every subsequent day after the date of conviction, where the offence continues.
The occupier is not guilty of the offence if the overcrowding is within the exceptions specified: the occupier's children attain the age of 10 and an application for alternative accommodation is made, or relatives are visiting the property.
Similarly, a number of requirements are imposed upon landlords. Such a party commits a summary offence under the Act if they cause or permit the dwelling to be overcrowded. This is done if:
a) they had reasonable cause to believe that the dwelling would become overcrowded in circumstances rendering them guilty of the offence,
b) they failed to make inquiries with the occupier as to the number, age and sex of the persons who would be allowed to sleep in the dwelling,
c) a notice is served on them by the local housing authority that the dwelling is overcrowded and they fail to take such steps as reasonably available to them to end the overcrowding, including, if necessary, legal proceeding for possession of the dwelling under section 331(2) of the Act.
A landlord committing this offence is liable to a fine.
Under section 332, every rent book or similar document under in relation to a dwelling must contain a summary of the preceding provisions of Part X of the Housing Act 1985 and a statement of the permitted number of persons in relation to the dwelling. If a rent book is found not to contain either requirement, the landlord is guilty of a summary offence and again liable on conviction to a fine.
A further duty is imposed on a landlord to, when it comes to their knowledge, give notice of the fact of overcrowding to the local housing authority within seven days after they first became aware of the fact. This obligation does not arise in situations which-
A landlord who fails to give notice in accordance with this section commits a summary offence and is liable on conviction to a fine.
Under Ground 9 of Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988, a landlord may bring proceedings for an order granting possession of the property on the basis of the overcrowding of the premises by the tenant. Consideration will be given to whether the definition of overcrowding has been met and may ultimately determine the case.
Alternatively, provided that the issue of overcrowding is covered within the tenancy agreement, a claim could be brought under Ground 12 of the Schedule which deals with breaches of a tenant's obligations under the agreement.
The issue of overcrowding in all areas of housing is of great importance and steps should be taken in order for landlords and tenants alike not to fall foul of the legislation covering these areas.