An appeal has recently been made and dismissed by Spooners and West Dartmoor Hunt against an enforcement notice served on a caravan being used for residential purposes whilst stationed inside a barn. Appeal ref: APP/J9497/C/18/3203720.
Once again there has been confusion over the time period that a Local Authority can enforce against someone living on site in a mobile home unlawfully. As a rule of thumb, if you construct a building and live in it, or you take up residence in an existing building, the Council only has 4 years in which to enforce against this. Furthermore, provided that you can prove that you have been living there constantly for in excess of 4 years, then a CLEUD (Certificate of Lawfulness for existing Use or Development) can be issued essentially validating the residential use.
The time period for a Council being able to enforce against unlawfully living in a caravan or mobile unit, however, is 10 years. This is because a caravan is mobile and as such we are concerned with the use of land for the stationing of such a unit rather than the creation of a permanent dwelling. You can perhaps imagine a similarity between parking a car and parking a caravan. If you continuously park your car on a piece of land and you wanted to prove you have a right to continue to do so in perpetuity, then you would have to do this for a period of 10 years in order to claim that the use of land has changed to allow parking. However if you built a garage for the storage of a car, then you would be immune form enforcement after only a 4 year period. This is because you have physically created something rather than just changed the use of the land. Similarly, if you physically build a dwelling then the 4 year rule applies, however merely parking or siting a mobile unit would require 10 years concurrent use to be immune from enforcement as this only concerns a change of use of the land.
The appeal case listed in this post however, considers a more technical part of the 4 year vs 10 year rule. In this case, a caravan had been sited for in excess of 4 years but less than 10 years INSIDE a barn. The applicant claimed that because the mobile unit was inside a barn, the enforcement period should only be 4 years because the change of use related to a permanent building. The council disagreed and stated that the period should be 10 years.
Whilst the Inspector agreed with the council in this case and allowed the enforcement notice to stand, it is interesting to note that had the applicant lived in the barn without the caravan being there, then there may have been an argument that the 4 year rule would apply. Similarly, had the mobile unit been fixed to barn in some way then the unit may have become considered 'building materials' for the formation of a permanent dwelling.
I suspect that there may have also been some direction here by the Inspector to try and avoid arguments that were brought out by the infamous case of the aptly named 'Mr Fidler' and the castle in the straw bales..