The saga of HMO planning permission continues... In April this year the Labour government brought into force the directive that any buy to let property with more than 3 households (i.e. unrelated individuals) in it would need a planning application made to the local council.

Prior to April, in the vast majority of council regions, you could have up to 6 people living in an HMO without needing to apply for planning. The change in law in April resulted in huge issues for professional multi-let landlords, who were forced into a situation where they had to either:

a. try and convince vendors to delay exchange and completion until a decision had been made by the council, or

b. complete on the purchase of a property without knowing whether they would be able to use it for the intended purpose

Essentially, it was a pretty unreasonable law and doing nothing to improve relations between local government and private sector landlords, on whom the government is going to become increasingly reliant to provide housing for our ever-growing population. We’re not only a top destination for immigration in Europe, but the number of single-person households is set to increase over the coming years.

Thankfully, the present government recognised the issue and in October of this year more or less reversed the ruling. The only difference to the situation at the start of the year is that councils can introduce an Article 4 Direction in relation to certain areas, which will require planning permission for more than 3 people in an HMO, but they are required to give 12 months’ notice of such an introduction (unless they want to open themselves up to a possible compensation claim by the landlord).

Certain councils which have always had something of an anti-HMO policy, recently applied to the High Court for an injunction against the October law change, but that has been refused by the High Court. Up to 6 people is therefore ‘permitted development’, unless your council has introduced an Article 4 Direction.

Manchester is so far the only city to make a formal announcement of an Article 4 Direction which will cover the whole city. However, it is likely that other councils may make similar announcements in light of the judicial review failing.

In short, planning and multiple occupancy regulations are something HMO landlords need to keep a sharp eye on, and you should be prepared to appeal against planning refusals with convincing evidence supporting your application. Our Franchise Partners haven’t lost an appeal yet, but it’s certainly not an easy hurdle to overcome or something that’s easy to tackle alone. You need to take best advice and make sure that your properties are high quality, regulation compliant (building regs, fire and health & safety) and really beneficial to the local community.