(June edition of Park Homes Magazine)
Kirstie Apps & Ibraheem Dulmeer
In order to run a site with homes that are for year round residential use (park homes) there is a requirement for relevant planning permission and for a site licence from the local authority.
The Mobile Homes Act 2013 has made significant changes to the park homes world. In addition to amending the terms implied into all agreements to which the Mobile Homes Act 1983 (as amended) applies, it has updated the legislation which was introduced in 1960 to deal with, amongst other things, the enforcement of site licence conditions on what is now defined as relevant protected sites.
This article aims to provide the reader with some background information about site licences and an introduction to some of the changes brought about by the Mobile Homes Act 2013. Reference to “owner” in this article is reference to the park home owner and reference to the “site owner” is reference to the park owner or the person or entity named as the holder of the site licence. Firstly, it is necessary to comment of the meaning of a relevant protected site. Guidance from the Department of Communities and Local Government explains that a relevant protected site is a privately owned park where the relevant planning permission or site licence allows the land to be occupied wholly, or in part, for year round residential use. (According to the Guidance this includes “mixed use” sites where there is both holiday and fully residential occupation of the pitches).
If a park home is on a mixed site and on a pitch which is intended for permanent residential use, it is important for the owner to check that there is the relevant planning permission in place which allows the residential use of that land and there is or will be an agreement in place for the home to be lived in as the owner’s main or only residence. This will be an agreement to which the Mobile Homes Act 1983 (as amended) applies.
Where can one find a copy of the site licence?
This may be dependent on the wording of the conditions attached to the site licence (which has been issued by the local authority); however the licence should be displayed on the site in “some conspicuous place” together with the conditions of the licence itself. The licence and conditions are usually displayed on the park’s noticeboard. There may be provisions in the express terms of the written statement (or Mobile Homes Act agreement) about where the site licence is displayed or about how it may be available to be viewed, for example in the site office.
In addition to this, the local authority has a duty to keep a register of site licences and the register must be open to public at all reasonable times.
How are the licence conditions set?
Local authorities have the power to review site licence conditions and this has been the case since the legislation requiring sites to be licensed came into effect. This includes the power to vary existing conditions or to add new ones if that is appropriate.
“Model standards” can be specified by the Department for Communities and Local Government (“DCLG”). The most recent model standards are the Model Standards 2008 for Caravan Sites in England. Model Standards 2008 do not apply automatically to all relevant protected sites in England.
Local authorities should take into account these standards for all new sites and sites which have been substantially redeveloped. However, in terms of existing sites, consideration should be given to whether it is appropriate to apply any of the model standards if a review is being undertaken, taking into account such things as the character of the site.
The effect of the new measures
Park homes sites are on a whole managed by fair professional individuals and/or businesses. It is unlikely that such well-run sites will be significantly affected by the new regime introduced by the Mobile Homes Act 2013. However it has been seen that flowing from the changes introduced by the legislation more site visits have been completed by local authorities.
Can current site licence conditions be updated?
As set out above, local authorities have the power to review site licence conditions. Existing conditions may only be changed after the site owner has had opportunity to make representations. Any varied or new condition introduced by the local authority may be challenged by the site owner within 28 days from receiving the notice of the new changes if there are grounds to do so. The site owner may bring a challenge by making an application to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) (“FTT”). The forms are available on the LEASE website: parkhomes.lease-advice.org. Prior to the coming into force of the site licencing provisions under the Mobile Homes Act 2013, site owners could bring an appeal before the Magistrates Court.
What other changes were brought in by the Mobile Homes Act 2013?
Where a local authority considers that a site owner is failing or has failed to comply with a condition of the site licence, it can serve a compliance notice on the site owner. This notice will list the steps that need to be taken, within a specified time period, to comply with the requirements of the site licence. Where there is non-compliance or in the absence of a successful appeal being made to the FTT and the site owner is guilty of not complying with the notice, the changes introduced enable larger fines to be imposed in the courts. It should be noted that there is a statutory defence available to the site owner if they have reasonable excuse for not complying with the terms of the notice within the time specified.
A new provision has also been introduced under this legislation that deals with emergency situations which may arise where the site owner has failed or is failing to comply with a condition of the site licence and as a result there is an imminent risk of serious harm to the health or safety of any person who is or may be on the land. Providing the local authority were right to take this action in the first place and the appropriate notices were served, in the absence of any successful challenge brought by the site owner before the FTT the local authority may impose a charge on the site owner for the recovery of expenses incurred in connection with this action and serve a demand. A site owner may appeal to the FTT in respect of any demand charged which at that such would be a challenge in respect of the actual amount of costs sought from by the local authority.
How do local authorities generally operate in this area?
Generally speaking, local authorities will prefer to work with site owners in a constructive and positive way to improve parks where necessary and address any issues that arise. Except in the most serious and urgent cases, local authorities will want to work with site owners to resolve the problems informally without the recourse to formal enforcement action.
If you have any questions in relation to this article please do not hesitate to contact the Park Homes Department at LEASE on 020 7832 2525 or [email protected] or Kirstie Apps of Stephens Scowns Solicitors on 01392 210700 or email at [email protected]
This article is not meant to describe or give a full interpretation of the law; only the courts can do that. If you are in any doubt about your rights and duties then seek specific advice. The law discussed covers matters pertaining to the English jurisdiction.