If managed efficiently and fully occupied, HMO properties can be extremely lucrative investments. But they’re also subject to lots of regulation and changing legislation, and the rules surrounding planning permission can be confusing.
Here, planning expert, Alison Broderick, talks about the planning challenges surrounding HMOs, and answers your HMO FAQs.
What is an HMO?
The definition for an HMO is:
- It’s rented to 5 or more people who form more than 1 household
- It’s at least 3 storeys high
- Tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities
You must have a licence if you’re renting out an HMO, which is a completely different set of legislation to planning, (which we’ll cover below), but it’s important to note that both need to be complied with.
In recent years, certain boroughs have also brought in legislation which means that even if your property is smaller and rented to fewer people, you may still need a property licence to let it out. It's best to check with your council to see if this applies to you.
What planning class does an HMO fall into?
Since 6th April 2010, small houses and flats in multiple occupation (HMOs) now fall within their own “class” for planning purposes, C4 class.
What is the difference between C3, C4 and Sui Generis planning classes?
All land uses are defined in the planning Use Class Order. “C” class properties mean they fall into a residential use. C3 class is a standard family/single occupancy dwelling. Cr4 class refers to small HMOs (of between 3 and 6 occupiers) and Sui Generis literally means “in a class of its own” and covers large HMOs of 7 or more people (plus many other things).
When does an HMO need planning permission?
You always need planning permission to move in and out of the Sui Generis use class, so any HMO of 7 or more people needs planning permission regardless of location.
It is a Permitted Development Right to move between C3 and C4 classes and back again, so in most cases, a small HMO does not need planning permission. However, you may also need planning permission if your HMO is in the C4 class and your local authority has an Article 4 Direction. This is a power councils have to remove permitted development rights and they can use this to require planning permission for small HMOs as well. You may also need planning permission regardless of the size of the HMO if there is a planning condition on your property restricting the use.
What is allowed under permitted development and what is the process?
Permitted development rights also cover all sorts of work to dwellings. You can do small extensions, loft conversions and garage conversions amongst other things dependent on size. Be careful though – they only apply to C3 and C4 class dwellings and not at all to flats. Visit the Planning Portal for more information.
When might landlords need a planning specialist to help with HMOs?
Landlords might need a planning specialist as they can help with navigating parking requirements and local planning policy (each council is different), as well as providing more general advice before you set up an HMO.
Do authorities with Article 4 Directions always resist granting planning permission?
Not always. Usually Article 4 Directions are located in areas of over-concentration of HMOs, for example in student areas. However, a council will generally look to cover the whole of a borough with a Direction to prevent the spread of HMOs, while acknowledging that the whole borough is unlikely to be affected.
If you locate an HMO away from the main concentrations, and meet other policy requirements, you are more likely to be granted permission.
What objections from planning authorities do you find yourself dealing with?
Parking and neighbour complaints are very common; people are often concerned with the possibility of a poorly-managed HMO and this links to parking; and neighbours often worry they will not be able to get out of their driveway or that there may be limited access for emergency vehicles.
Get hold of a copy of the planning policy and check what it says, then make sure you can meet the requirements.
Alison Broderick is a Planning Manager at Platinum Property Partners. Her role is to give specialist advice on planning, building control, licensing and all other regulations that apply to the buy-to-let and HMO property industry.