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Real Estate Encyclopedia | Property Law Dictionary | Real Estate Terms | Meanings & Definitions |      Jun 28, 2022


A building of permanent character that has been constructed or adapted so that it may be used for living in and usually, but not necessarily, severed from another holding. A building capable of or intended for human habitation, i.e. a building that is used primarily as a dwelling house. This is the common meaning, but the word house (but not dwelling house) may be construed to include any building, whether it is intended for habitation, or for any one purpose. "A hundred years ago there was not much difficulty in saying what was a 'house', but builders and architects have so altered the construction of houses, and the habits of people have so altered in relation to them, that 'house' has acquired an artificial meaning and the word is no longer the expression of a simple idea; but to ascertain its meaning one must understand the subject-matter with respect to which it is used in order to arrive at the sense in which it is employed [in a particular statute]", Grant v Langston [1900] AC 383, 390 (HL)(Scot).

Words such as 'house of God', 'country-house', 'house of correction', 'guesthouse', 'workhouse' and 'roadhouse' indicate that any place where people are given shelter may be a house, and 'storehouse', 'warehouse', 'opera house', 'court house' and 'schoolhouse' indicate a place for storage or gathering of people. However, without prefix or suffix, outside of statutory qualification, in its most common usage, a house is a building for human habitation.

A building divided horizontally into two separate maisonettes can be a 'house' in its entirety (Malpas v St Ermin's Property Co Ltd (1992) 24 HLR 537 (Can)). Similarly, in common law (following the Scottish usage), a flat may be considered as a house (Grant v Langston [1900] AC 383, 392 (HL)(Scot)).

In English statutes, a house is generally defined by inclusion. For example, in connection with local authority loans for housing improvement a "house" includes "(a) any yard, garden, outhouses and appurtenances belonging thereto or usually enjoyed with it, and (b) any part of a building which is occupied or intended to be occupied as a separate dwelling including, in particular, a flat", Housing Act 1985, s. 457. In the case of a letting of a house for human habitation at a low rent and where there is an implied term that it is fit for human habitation, "'house' includes—(a) a part of a house, and (b) any yard, garden, outhouses and appurtenances belonging to the house or usually enjoyed with it", Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, s. 8(5).

For the purpose of the statutory right of leasehold enfranchisement, or a right to an extended lease, "… 'house' includes any building designated or adapted for living in and reasonably so called, notwithstanding that the building is not structurally detached, or was or is not designed or adapted solely for living in, or is divided horizontally into flats or maisonettes; and—(a) where a building is divided horizontally, the flats or other units into which it is so divided are not separate 'houses', though the building as a whole may be; and (b) where a building is divided vertically the building as a whole is not a 'house' though any of the units into which it is divided may be", Leasehold Reform Act 1967, s. 2(1). For this purpose, whether a property may reasonably be called a house is a matter of law, but even if it may be called something it is a 'house' if it fits the statutory tests. Thus, the house has to be a "building", "designed or adapted for living in" and be "reasonably so called" a 'house'. (There is no definition of building in the Act, but as a building is merely a "built structure" and as, in this context, it is required to form the whole or part of a building, the definition is intended "to exclude other forms of residential accommodation such as caravans or houseboats", Malekshad v Howard de Walden Estates Ltd [2003] 1 AC 1013, 1027 (HL).) It does not have to be "structurally detached", nor designed or adapted "solely" for living in (Tandon v Trustees of Spurgeons Homes [1982] AC 755, 761 (HL)). It can be a building divided horizontally into flats (or maisonettes), provided the entirety can "reasonably" be called a house. It can be a semi-detached house or two adjacent terraced houses occupied as a single dwelling house (Collins v Howard de Walden Estates [2003] 37 EG 137 (CA)). However, a flat that takes up all or a part of a floor of a building—or even most of the building—cannot be a 'house'. On the other hand, even though a building might reasonably be called something else (e.g. a "shop with flats above"), in the context of the 1967 Act definition, it can be still "reasonably" called a "house" (Tandon v Trustees of Spurgeons Homes, supra; Magnohard Ltd v Cadogan Estates Ltd [2012] EWCA Civ 594 (CA)— a mansion house block comprised eight flats and three shop units could not reasonably be called a "house").

The 1967 Act is intended to ensure that a 'house' is not excluded from the right of enfranchisement merely because a small or insignificant part is above or below another property. As a corollary the Act provides that it does not apply to a "house which is not structurally detached and a material part lies above or below a part of the structure not comprised in the house", LRA 1967, s. 2(2) (italics added for emphasis) (Parsons v Trustees of Henry Smith's Charity [1974] 1 WLR 435 (HL)—no enfranchisement where the house was not 'structurally detached' and a 'material' part of built over the garage of a neighbouring property, i.e. the first floor flat ran over two included garages but also extended over the neighbouring garage that were not part of the premises; Duke of Westminster v Birrane [1995] 2 WLR 270, [1995] QB 262, 271A–D (CA)—mews basement extended beneath another property; Cf. Sharpe v Duke Street Securities NV [1987] 55 P & CR 331, 334–36 (CA)—a building divided horizontally into two maisonettes with separate entrances, but subsequently brought into common ownership with a connecting door, could "reasonably" be called a house; Malekshad v Howard de Walden Estates Ltd, supra—a main house and a mews house might reasonable be called a house taken together, but as the building was divided vertically at basement level the building "as a whole" not 'house' for the purpose of the 1967 Act, even though both properties were let and occupied together, "it is not the geometric characteristics of the line of separation which matter but the structural relationship of the units into which the building is divided" at 1029).

For the purpose of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965, s. 8(1), a house used for business purposes is a "house" (Ravenseft Properties Ltd v Hillingdon LBC (1968) 20 P & CR 483 (LT)); and a property that is partly used for commercial purposes is a "house" where it is being acquired compulsorily under the Housing Act 1985, s. 17 (Ainsdale Investments Ltd v First Secretary of State [2004] EWHC 1010; [2004] 22 EG 141).

When used in a deed or conveyance, without qualification, 'house' includes any outbuildings, curtilage, orchard, or garden associated with the house (1 Co Litt 56b; Bettisworth's Case (1580) 2 Co Rep 31b, 76 Eng Rep 482; Doe d Clements v Collins (1788) 2 Term Rep 498, 502, 100 Eng Rep 268; Grosvenor (Lord) v Hampstead Junction Ry Co (1857) De GF & J 446, 44 Eng Rep 796; Rosencranz v. United States, 356 F.2d 313 (1st Cir. Me 1966)).
See also appurtenance, back-to-back house(Eng), boarding house, cottage, double house(US), duplex house, home, lodging house, maisonette, manor, mansion house, messuage, house in multiple occupationEng), public house, residence, rooming house(US)sup>, row house(AmE), semi-detached house, tenement, terrace house, town house.

(Terms in bold are defined and explained in detail in the Encyclopedia.)

Bibliographical references:

Anno: 29 ALR3d 574: Devise of House.

27(3) Halsbury's Laws of England, Landlord and Tenant (4th ed. Reissue), § 131.
2 Stroud's Judicial Dictionary (5th ed. London: 1986), pp. 1186–92.
Hague on Leasehold Enfranchisement (5th ed. London: 2009), §§ 2–02—2–09.
Encyclopaedia of Housing Law and Practice (London: Loose-leaf), Vol. 1 'Key Issues, F. House/Dwelling-House'.

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