HMO landlords be warned – the government has announced that the law is to be changed from 6 April, introducing a new planning category for HMOs (the definition to be based on that set out in the Housing Act 2004):
we have decided to amend the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) order 1987 as amended to provide for a specific definition of an HMO. Planning permission will then be required, where a material change of use has occurred, for properties changing use from C3 (dwelling house) to the new use class.
What this means in practice, is that in future planning permission will be required before a property can be let to three or more unrelated people sharing.
We are told that the legislation will not apply retrospectively, but landlords seeking to let to three or more unrelated tenants sharing after 6 April should speak to the planning departments of their local authorities (who are no doubt going to be very busy).
It seems that you will not need planning permission to change a property back again to single use, after planning permission to let as an HMO has been obtained. However the new rules will presumably make life difficult for landlords of properties which are sometimes let to families and sometimes to sharers.
There is no doubt that ‘studentification’ where whole neighbourhoods are taken over by student HMOs can cause problems in certain areas. For example I wrote about this in my post on HMO licensing in Cathays Ward in Cardiff. However are the steps proposed taking things too far?
This move has been roundly criticised by the landlords associations. The National Landlords Association states that the move is misguided and will not achieve the governments goals:
HMOs play a vital role in providing much needed housing for students, young professionals and those on low incomes who rely on this type of affordable accommodation. Large cities across the UK greatly depend on shared housing as a first step. By making it more difficult and costly for landlords to provide this type of accommodation, these measures will reduce choice for tenants and increase pressure on local authority housing demands.
The Residential Landlords Association describes the move as ‘deplorable and draconian’. RLA chairman Alan Ward comments:
“This will be nothing to the economic decline of bars, restaurants and local shops if students and young professionals are deprived of the choice of locality in which they can live. Packing them into expensive halls of residence neither gives them the experience of independent living, nor integration with thriving communities. It will create student ghettos.
” This is the dangerous use of planning legislation for social engineering to stop students living close to their university, and other social groups such as immigrants.
The housing law blogs are also critical. The PainSmith blog feels that the government probably has not realised quite how many properties will be affected by this. It concludes:
We do not usually comment on political matters, but it is disturbing to see these measures, along with others, being introduced in very short order in April. It immediately gives rise to concerns as to the level of consideration that has been given to the measures and their likely effects. It also gives the appearance of measures being forced through prior to an election in order to score points with the electorate or simply on the basis that the Conservative party, should they win an election, will be too busy to reverse them. One hopes that is not what is going on but if it is then it is sad to see cheap political point-scoring at the expense of the private rented sector which houses a significant percentage of the population and makes a substantial contribution to, an already weakened, economy.
The other proposal from government, is to remove the necessity for local authorities to get the approval of the Secretary of State, where they want to introduce selective licensing (usually done to provide for licensing non-HMO landlords in areas of low housing demand which also have problems with anti-social behavior).
If you feel strongly about this, note that there is a consultation paper online, deadline for responses is 12 March 2010.