A recent article in Planning magazine suggested that landlords did not have to seek planning permission for HMOs.
This was on the basis that a simple change in use class was not a trigger for the making of a planning application. This is true, in a sense, but the reality (of course) is that it is a little more complex than that.
The trigger for the making of a planning application is a “material change of use” in a property. Section 55(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 makes clear that changing the use of a building from a single dwellinghouse to multiple dwelinghouses is always a material change of use. However, changing use of a property to HMO status does not automatically involve changing the number of dwellinghouses. A property will generally only consist of multiple dwellinghouses if it is being let under a number of different tenancy agreements. Therefore section 55(3) will not capture a change to HMO use which simply involves three or more people sharing in a property.
Of course, use for letting to three or more unrelated sharers does fall into a separate planning class, the new C4 planning class and movement between classes is indicative of a material change of use. It is not, however, conclusive evidence and consideration must be given to whether the actual use has changed.
In March 2010 an interesting planning appeal decision on this issue was made. Here planning consent had been refused for letting a property as an HMO under the old (pre C4) use class system. The appeal officer overturned that refusal asserting that the change to HMO use from use by a single family would not cause significant extra disturbance to surrounding residents.
Looking at all these factors it becomes clear that for some HMOs planning permission may simply not be required. Of course, for properties where the use was already established prior to 6 April 2010 then there is no change of use by continuing to let as an HMO and these properties do not require consent. However, even if there has been a movement from the C3 to C4 use classes after that date this may not count as a material change of use for planning purposes. A lot will depend on the actual use being made of the property and whether it constitutes an actual change in the use of the property. For example, it could be argued that simply letting a property to a couple and a friend is not a material change of use even if it involves a movement from a C3 to C4 use class.
Equally, a route of appeal against a local authority refusal to grant C4 consent is opened up by the appeal decision described above if it can be shown that the proposed C4 use is little different from prior use under the C3 class and will have a limited impact on the surrounding residents.
Of course, a lot of this discussion may be irrelevant if the new government alters the permitted development orders as they have previously suggested they will. However, it will remain relevant until then and may be an issue in some areas where the local authority intends to opt out of the permitted development changes.
In short therefore, an HMO is only an HMO for planning purposes if it involves a change of use from that which has gone before.