Regulating park homes

It is not unusual for farmers and land owners to use part of their land as a site for caravans or mobile homes which are used by the home owner as their main or only residence, being more commonly known as “park homes”.  At the end of last month, new regulations were introduced with the specific aim of providing a fairer method for resolving disputes between the owners and occupiers of these sites.

The regulations can be found in the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 (Consequential Amendments to the Mobile Homes Act 1983) Order 2011 which extends the rights of occupiers of local authority (LA), County Council, gypsy and traveller sites.  A further change is that the hearing of most disputes between site owners and occupiers will now transfer from the county court to the Residential Property Tribunal (RPT).

The legal position of the owner of a park home is somewhat unusual in that the home is owned, but is not attached to the pitch on which it stands.  As a result, the resident effectively owns their home as a chattel and pays a pitch fee to keep the home on a particular piece of land.  Although the Mobile Homes Act 1983 provided some security of occupation to residents and allowed them to sell their home to a person approved by the site owner, a feeling remained that certain site owners treated their residents unfairly.  This has been dealt with by reforming the way in which disputes are handled.

At present, gypsies and travellers who occupy pitches on LA sites (governed by the Caravan Sites Act 1968) can be evicted by an LA giving four week’s notice of its intention to terminate the licence and seek a court possession order – no reasons need be given for seeking possession.  The new legislation ensures that many of the provisions contained in the 1983 Act will now apply to gypsy and traveller sites owned by an LA.  The law has been changed in response to a case decided by the European Court of Justice which found that the lack of procedural safeguards for gypsies and travellers who faced eviction from LA-owned sites was incompatible with a section of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Before the new reforms came into effect, most disputes between residents and site owners were dealt with by the county court or an arbitrator.  In most circumstances, disputes will now be dealt with by the RPT and this will also be the case where an agreement states that a dispute is to be determined by an arbitrator.  The intention is that both park residents and site owners will each have access to inexpensive, but specialist tribunals, that have the expertise to resolve disputes swiftly and in a manner that avoids conflict between the parties.

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