How small is too small?

There has been a steep rise in the number of people renting rather than buying in London, no doubt due to the really high prices of property in the capital, and the rules of affordability to get a mortgage.

Landlords are offering smaller and smaller flats to tenants, but are they breaking the law? Actually, there is no statutory minimum floor space for living accommodation.

In recent weeks, there have been several stories in the media about very small flats being offered for rent, and the surprising thing is that these properties are being snapped up within a short time of being advertised. For example, a garage in Brixton was on the market for £125k but because potential buyers (and there were several interested parties) were unable to get a mortgage due to the size of the property, the owners decided to rent it out instead for £700 pcm. It was described by the estate agents as “a converted garage that is just about big enough to fit a single bed in”.

A flat in Kings Cross – described as a “rabbit hutch” and was basically a bed in a kitchen – has been deemed too small by Islington Borough Council, and has been withdrawn from the rental market. Marketed as a “modern studio apartment”, the council observed that the cupboard doors couldn’t be opened because the bed was in the way. Despite the rent being £737 pcm, it was taken within 16 hours of being put on the market. At that time, there was a similar studio flat in the area asking £1,100 pcm.

A converted room in a terraced house near Kentish Town has an interesting bed arrangement – you have to climb into it via a ladder from the fridge. Forget sitting up in bed, there is only 60cm clearance! The 8m2 flat has a rent of £780 pcm, and despite what the Guardian described as “a rather narrow rental market of petite Cirque du Soleil performers”, the lettings agency had over 50 enquiries for it.

Then there is the story of a converted loft flat in Hendon which can only be accessed via a small staircase with head clearance of only 1.2m (reducing to 0.7m), meaning the tenants have to go in (and presumably go out again) on all fours. The landlord was prosecuted by Barnet Council because the flat was deemed to be unsafe in the event of a fire.

The Landlord and Tenants Act 1985 states that a property rented out must be in a habitable state, i.e. clean, and in good repair. The tenant can expect that the landlord will carry out such repairs to maintain the habitability status, but there is no minimum space requirement.

There are guidelines for the number of people living in a given space – Shelter say that a property is over-crowded if there are more than 2 people per room of minimum size 10.2m2, and that the minimum size room for a single person is 6.5 m2, although for a child the room may be only 4.6m2. The council have an obligation to help tenants if they are considered to be living in overcrowded conditions, although that may mean prosecuting the landlord which may mean they’ll be evicted – not really helpful.

1/9/14 PP

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