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Flat Sharing - New Planning requirements for homes in multiple occupation

08 February 2010 #Setting up in the UK

The Housing and Planning Minister has announced the intention to introduce new regulations coming into force in April that will increase the circumstances where it will become necessary to obtain planning permission for houses or flats in single person or family occupation to be used as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO).

The characteristic of an HMO is accommodation occupied by people who are not members of the same family and who share basic amenities, such as where friends combine to share rented accommodation.

Currently a house or individual flat used by up to 6 residents living together as a single household qualifies as a dwellinghouse for planning purposes under the terms of the Use Classes Order.  This means that a change from use of a dwellinghouse by a single person or family to use by not more than six residents living together in a single household does not require planning permission, but the intention is that, from April, HMOs, newly defined with the lower threshold of three or more occupants who are not members of the same family and who share basic amenities, will be taken out of the dwellinghouse Use Class. 

Consequently where a change of a house or flat to use as an HMO takes place after the proposed new Order has come into operation the question to be considered is whether this amounts to a material change in use requiring planning permission.  This will depend on the circumstances but it can be inferred from the objective of the change in the law that in most circumstances local planning authorities will consider it to be a material change.  The requirement of an application for planning permission will enable the local planning authority to consider the impact of the change.  For example, there may be adverse car parking implications or a concentration of HMOs might be considered to affect the character of the area adversely.

A change back to use as a dwellinghouse will be permitted development, not requiring planning permission, but after these changes in planning law, once an HMO has become a dwellinghouse it cannot revert back to an HMO without planning permission if to do so would amount to a material change in use.

On the face of it, if the number of house or flat sharers falls below three other than for a very short period of time, the opportunities for the remaining flat sharers to take in a third occupant - and the future entitlement of the Landlord to relet to three occupants - might be lost.  The issue would be whether this small incremental increase would be a material change, but in practice, the local planning authority may have no means of knowing that the numbers have changed and, in most types of situation, little interest in alleging any breach of planning control.

This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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