19th Jul 2021

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Georgia Purnell (of Counsel) appeared on behalf of the First Defendant


Introduction

1.      Flat-sharing (or house-sharing) by unrelated individuals is now a commonplace way of living. Particularly in towns and cities with significant mobile populations of young single people or students who need a place to live but cannot afford, or do not need, a house or flat of their own or on their own.

2.      This case is concerned with the impact of the law on those commonplace flat-share or house-share situations where the owner does not themselves live at the property but allows others to do so and those others are unrelated to one another.

3.      In any such flat- or house- sharing arrangement, at the outset, a property owner will let the house or flat to several individuals on a joint tenancy at an agreed rent for the whole property. They may be, particularly in respect of a larger property, as many as four individuals whom I shall call “A, B, C and D.”

4.      The owner is content that those individuals agree among themselves which rooms in the house or flat they each occupy and what arrangements they make as to the apportionment between themselves of contributions towards the rent and/or household bills. They share the use of the kitchen and other communal areas, but each has their own bedroom. Usually, one of the tenants will collect up the contributions and make the regular rental payments to the landlord or agent as well as dealing with utility bills.

5.      In time, one occupier will want to leave and will find another to replace them. My suggested D may be replaced by E. In the modern day, E may be a friend or acquaintance of D or will have responded to an internet-posting offering ‘a room in a flat (or house) share’.

6.      Usually, the newcomer will be informally ‘vetted’ by the other remaining residents to ensure that they will be a suitable ‘fit’ in the property. Often, the incumbent occupiers take the opportunity at such a changeover to swop rooms, so that the one arriving may not necessarily take the room of the one departing.

7.      The owner or agent is told of the change. The occupiers are now A, B, C and E. This is the first ‘churn’ in the identity of the occupiers.

8.      Over following months and years, the occupiers will leave, in turn, and be replaced. There are often multiple further ‘churns’.

9.      A decade or so on, the occupiers may be M, N, O and P. The only record of A, B, C or D ever having lived at the property may be the appearance of their names on increasingly dog-eared post in an ever-growing pile in the communal hallway or in a faded copy of their original tenancy agreement held somewhere in the files of the property owner or their agent.

10.  The informality of such arrangements may well suit the owner, who receives regular monetary payments from a single individual for the whole property and need never trouble with the burden of advertising available rooms to let or having to engage agents to recruit and vet new prospective residents. For their part, the occupiers may leave at will, subject simply to an understanding that they must find a replacement acceptable to their fellow occupiers before doing so.

11.  Commonly, the first tenants will have paid a tenancy deposit to the owner. Each of A, B, C and D may have contributed to that. When they each leave, in turn, they arrange that the incoming occupier replacing them will reimburse them for their ‘personal share’ of that original deposit or ‘bond’. The same thing happens at the next churn, and so on.

Continue reading this Judgment here.


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