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28th February 2017

Occupier of an Almshouse found to be a licensee not a tenant

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The Court of Appeal has confirmed that residents of almshouses occupy as “licensees” and not as “tenants”.
Mrs Watts, a resident of an almshouse belonging to a charity was served with a notice to vacate, by the trustees of the charity, due to her anti-social behaviour.

A signed letter of appointment between the charity and Mrs Watts described her as a “beneficiary of the charity” and contained various “Conditions of Tenancy” to include provisions:

  • permitting reasonable access for the charity for inspection of the almshouse and for repair and redecoration;  
  • enabling the trustees of the charity to set aside her appointment e.g. in the case of serious misconduct, or if there is a breach of the regulations;
  • and stipulating that neither Mrs Watts, nor any relation of hers, will have any legal interest in the almshouse.
An order for possession of the almshouse was subsequently made by the County Court, which Mrs Watts appealed, arguing amongst other matters, that she had a legal interest in it.

The Court of Appeal rejected the appeal and held that Mrs Watts did not have exclusive legal possession and therefore, was not a tenant. She had instead, been granted a personal licence to occupy the almshouse in accordance with the “Conditions of Tenancy” that she had signed and that these “quite plainly” pointed away from granting her a legal interest. The Court of Appeal stated further that the trustees of the charity could only properly discharge the trusts of the Charity by granting a licence, as this could be revoked if for example, an almshouse occupier ceased to qualify as a person in need.

The significance of the occupation of the almshouse being deemed a licence, is that a licence is merely a permission to be in occupation of the almshouse, which can be easily terminated and it would not necessarily bind a new owner in the event of a sale. Therefore, occupation under the terms of a licence is not secure.

A lease/tenancy however, constitutes a legal interest in land and offers an occupier security, even if a property is sold to a third party i.e. the third party would purchase the property subject to the occupation. A lease/tenancy can also be more difficult to terminate, the time periods for termination are generally longer and tenants of a lease may in some circumstances be automatically entitled to a new lease once the old one terminates.”

For further information contact Sunita Punj on 01908 247018 or click here to email Sunita.