If your caravan floats it doesn't make it a boat

20 March 2023

In the world of property litigation, I have dealt with disputes covering some very varied matters including mooring rights and whether a prescriptive easement could be granted concerning a foreshore. It never ceases to amaze me what new points can be taken and litigated. 

Houseboat dispute

I was really interested to read a recent decision in the case of Tingdene Marinas Limited -v- Jaffe, a landmark legal battleconcerning the dispute of a houseboat, and whether that fell under the ambit of being a mobile home, and whether the occupant, Janet Jaffe, had acquired security of tenure in a marina. 

The defendant, Ms Jaffe is an artist, she lived on her houseboat in the claimant’s marina, Hartford Marina in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. She had been there since 2017. She was facing possession proceedings and being asked to leave by the owner of the marina, Tingdene Marinas Limited. 

At the first instance hearing the First Tier Tribunal found that Ms Jaffe's houseboat fell under the Mobile Homes Act 1983 legislation and that she had security of tenure (the right of occupation) and could not easily be relocated or asked to move.

Residential structures

At first glance, you might think that the Mobile Homes Act 1983 is irrelevant and that the Act related to residential structures that are on land and not on water but the interesting dimension to this case was that the houseboat was actually a static caravan on wheels which stood on a float. Had it not been floating then it could have been a static caravan on land that could easily fallen within the scope of the Mobile Homes Act 1983. The whole case centred on this crucial element. 

Section 1 of the Mobile Homes Act 1983 Act provided that it was applicable to any agreement where a person was entitled under an agreement to station a mobile home on land forming part of a protective site and was allowed to occupy the mobile home as their only or main residence.

Planning conditions

In 1998 planning permission had been given for the retention of 15 houseboats at Hartford Marina including Ms Jaffe's boat which could be moored on the pontoon. It was a planning condition that houseboats could only be used as holiday accommodation. However, in 2014 the planners issued a certificate of lawful use for the occupation of Ms Jaffe's houseboat as her only residence.

The marina argued on appeal that the houseboat did not meet the definition of a caravan and if it did, Ms Jaffe was not entitled under her licence agreement with Hartford Marina, to station it on the land.

The Upper Tribunal took the view that the houseboat was a caravan within the meaning of Section 29 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. It was a static caravan; it just happened to be floating. They did not think it lost its identity because the caravan and float combined was a houseboat. In addition, they did not think that the caravan being placed on a float meant it was not on land; and concluded it was on land which included the water surrounding the pontoon. 

The Judge in the case, Elizabeth Cooke said: ''Caravan' means any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another".

Ultimately, this meant that Ms Jaffe was permitted to continue to reside in the marina and Hartford Marina will have to consider if it is their intention, another route for requiring her to leave. 

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