I was recently consulted by Fransesca who is an HMO Landlord in Haringey in North London. (HMO stands for ‘House in Multiple Occupation’).
She has experienced a major problem with her property and the Council and asked me to alert other landlords to it.
I own a property, which I rent to 5 tenants with 5 separate ASTs. 2 floors, 2 bathrooms and one kitchen
Due to the change in the law last October 2018, my property became an HMO. I applied for the licence which was granted in July this year.
Little did I know that in my area article 4 was imposed in 2013 – the licencing team at the council did not inform me at the time:
Using a property as House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) for seven or more occupants requires planning permission is all parts of Haringey. Using a property as a small HMO with 3-6 occupants (Use Class C4), is normally permitted development, however, Haringey has made an Article 4 Direction to remove the permitted development rights for change of use from dwelling houses (Use Class C3) to houses in multiple occupation (Use Class C4). The Direction came into force on the 30 November 2013, which means that planning permission will be required for this type of development.
I had no idea that I had to have planning permission to change the use of the property at all and the licencing team did not tell me, I have never dealt with HMOs – I also know that ignorance is not an excuse.
One of the basic rules for this particular planning application to be successful is that the original dwelling has to be at least 120 sqm or the council will reject the application – by ‘original’ they mean that it does not matter to them that the property has been substantially extended (like mine has) – they only look at the original floor space and they won’t budge. My property is 110 sqm, so below the 120 sqm with the extension and conservatory it is in fact 128 sqm, so well above the required standard to ensure good quality of living for the tenants, which they have but it is being ignored due to an arcane rule. I think most landlords will have this issue, considering the size of houses built hundreds of years ago.
So now I am being told that if my application is rejected (which they have already told me they will), they will revoke my licence and they will send reinforcement officers to throw out the tenants.
Lawful development certificate for existing use?
Francesca was wondering if she could solve the issue by making an application for ‘‘lawful development certificate for existing use’. As I am not a planning lawyer I was unable to help her.
However, maybe readers have some relevant experience which they could share with Fransesca?
The problem with Councils
One aspect which concerns me about this is that Fransesca had already got an HMO license and was not told about the planning issue by the department which issues the licenses.
The HMO licensing department and the planning department in many councils are quite different and do not talk to each other. However ordinary landlords can’t be expected to know this.
Indeed I see in one of the emails which Fransesca sent me, the Planning Officer actually said:
The Licensing Team work under entirely different policy / legislation. I have discussed with management and advised that this is an unsatisfactory process for customers, as the planning policy could have been flagged by Licensing Team earlier in the process.
I could not agree more.
Surely it is time that Council’s started behaving in a more responsible way towards landlords such as Fransesca? Particularly as decent housing is in such short supply.
If YOU are applying for a new HMO license
Always check whether you need planning permission first. As you can see from Francesca’s story, this may not get picked up by the department which deals with your HMO license application.
Note also that running an HMO property is not the same as managing an ordinary let and, quite apart from the planning issues, there are other things you need to be aware of.
Here are some resources for you:
- We have a free HMO 101 course here
- There is a free ‘HMO Basics’ series of articles on this blog, although it is a bit old now.
- Landlord Law members will find an HMO video course based on a workshop with solicitor and HMO Expert David Smith here
- We also run HMO workshops with David from time to time. These will be announced to people on our mailing list.
- If you need one to one advice we have an ‘HMO Hotline’ telephone advice service here.