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Service charges in student accommodation

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Whether a service charge dispute could be determined by the First-tier Tribunal

The background

JLK Ltd v Emmanuel Chiedu Ezekwe and others [2017] concerned a building which had been converted by its landlord into 93 student accommodation units. Most units contained an en-suite bedroom, with others sharing bathrooms. The building also contained communal areas including lounges, kitchens and bathrooms.

Communal areas were to be maintained by the landlord, paid for by a service charge invoiced to the tenants. 56 tenants brought a claim in the First-tier Tribunal regarding the service charge sum for 2014-16. For the First-tier Tribunal to be able to decide the claim, and for tenants to be protected by service charge limitations, the units had to be classed as ‘dwellings’ under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

The decision

The Upper Tribunal decided that the First-tier Tribunal did not have the power to decide the service charge claim.

When addressing the issue of whether the properties were ‘dwellings’, the court considered the shared aspects of the accommodation and concluded that the properties could not be occupied or intended to be occupied as separate dwellings.

Advice and action for landlords

Although this case is technical in its nature, it provides a useful point for landlords and managers of student accommodation which contain shared facilities.

The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 contains provisions that limit the amount of service charge a landlord may require, set out consultation requirements and provide a means for tenants to dispute service charge where tenants occupy a ‘dwelling’. In this case, the properties could not be classed as dwellings and the service charge dispute could not therefore be decided by the First-tier Tribunal.

The properties in this case could not be classed as separate dwellings, meaning that the service charge dispute could not therefore be decided by the First-tier Tribunal.

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