Brighton goes HMO Heavy

On 16th June The Brighton and Hove News reported the following:

Fourth student landlord told to convert shared house back to family home

A Brighton landlord has been told to stop letting a family home to students – the fourth since new rules over shared houses in the city were introduced.
St Mary Magdalene Street

Last December, Laura Dwyer-Smith was refused retrospective council planning permission to continue using 22 St Mary Magdalene Street as a four-bed House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). It had been let to students since September 1, according to her planning application.

The authority said the tenancy breached local powers applying in five council wards designed to stop over-concentration of student homes in any given location. Rules specify that new houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) will not be allowed where it would take the proportion of HMOs within 50 metres to over 10 per cent.

The landlord appealed against refusal, leaving a final decision to the Planning Inspectorate’s Andrew Steen. In his judgement Mr Steen said the change of use would mean at least 10 per cent of homes within 50 metres would be HMOs. This, he added, would breach council planning policies designed to prevent noise and disturbance and promote a healthy mixed community.

It means the house cannot now be used as an HMO after September 7.

Last month another planning inspector backed a council enforcement action over a student house at 21 Upper Wellington Road, Brighton. It must cease as an HMO by August 20.

And last year, two properties in Bernard Road were also told to convert back into family homes – although one, at 17 Bernard Road, is now the subject of an appeal after permission was refused to use it as a small HMO rather than a large one. Students are still living there and paying about £3,000 a month in rent to landlords Mr and Mrs Donald Rayward.

Planning committee chair Councillor Julie Cattell said: “It’s encouraging to have the Inspectorate’s support for the second time in two months. The universities make a major contribution to our economy and culture.

“But those benefits are easily undermined for residents if we allow over-concentrations of students to change the character of individual streets.”

In April 2013 the council assumed special powers meaning landlords need planning permission to convert homes to HMOs in five council wards. These are Hanover and Elm Grove, Hollingdean and Stanmer, Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, Queen’s Park and St Peter’s and North Laine.

A small HMO is defined as a property let to between three and six unrelated people sharing facilities. Such premises also need a licence from the environmental health department in 12 council wards. More information is on the council’s website: HMOs and planning, plus HMOs and licensing.

These applications failed because they exceeded the Council’s 10% within 50m threshold policy which has been in place since April 2013.

The Inspectorate is giving increasing support to threshold type policies as they give tightly defined break points at which point a new HMO becomes acceptable. This type of policy is well supported within the NPPF at para 50 which states:

To deliver a wide choice of high quality homes, widen opportunities for home ownership and create sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities, local planning authorities should:

plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community (such as, but not limited to, families with children, older people, people with disabilities, service families and people wishing to build their own homes);

identify the size, type, tenure and range of housing that is required in particular locations, reflecting local demand; and

where they have identified that affordable housing is needed, set policies for meeting this need on site, unless off-site provision or a financial contribution of broadly equivalent value can be robustly justified (for example to improve or make more effective use of the existing housing stock) and the agreed approach contributes to the objective of creating mixed and balanced communities. Such policies should be sufficiently flexible to take account of changing market conditions over time.

The relevant sections highlighted IN BOLD.

Where landlords such as those reported on fall over is where they do not do their due diligence on the area they are investing in before carrying out the change to an HMO. Most, if not all, councils will tell you the HMO’s within a particular street that they are aware of. Any good planning consultant (shameless plug for TPX) will stress test it for you.

If the percentage in the street is well over the threshold then this would be an easy refusal for a Council and at appeal.

1-2% over the threshold may be worth an application but only as part of a subject to planning deal.

Under the threshold percentages should be applied for before someone else does.

If it was an HMO before the critical date….prove it!

In doing your due diligence get the vendor to prove its HMO credentials. Items such as AST’s Utility Bills and Council Tax demands can go a long way to securing a historic HMO use.

Remember that its your job to prove the use. Not the Council’s