Article 4 Directions & Houses in Multiple Occupation

Use Classes and Permitted Development

Planning law deals with different land and building uses through the system of ‘Use Classes’. Some changes from one ‘Use Class’ to another require planning permission from the local planning authority (i.e. Cornwall Council), whilst others do not. The ones that don’t are called “Permitted Development’ because they automatically get planning permission under the planning law.

An Article 4 Direction is a direction under Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order under which the local planning authority can withdraw specific ‘Permitted Development’ across a defined area.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are covered by Planning Use Class  ‘C4 Houses in multiple occupation’ – small shared houses occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals, as their only or main residence, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom.

Large HMOs, i.e. occupied by more than 6 residents, don’t fall into a specific use class, and they are called ‘sui generis’ in planning language, which means ‘Of its own kind; in a class by itself; unique’

Change of use from Use Class C3 (i.e. an ordinary dwelling house) to C4 (an HMO) is a ‘Permitted Development’, for which a planning application and formal planning permission is not required. Equally, change from C4 back to C3 is also ‘permitted development’.

If more than 6 occupants are involved, than as a ‘sui generis’ use a planning application and planning permission is always required.

Thus it is possible for property owners to convert an entire property into accommodation for up to 6 individuals without the need for a Planning application and the scrutiny that goes with the planning process.

Using an Article 4 Direction to control HMOs

However, if a Local Planning Authority wishes to bring HMOs under local planning control, to positively manage the location of new HMOs in order to create sustainable, healthy and inclusive communities and to avoid further increases in concentrations in certain streets, it can use an Article 4 Direction, often referred to as an ‘A4D’, to withdraw ‘Permitted Development’ for them. This means that Planning Permission would be required for an HMO regardless of its size.

A4Ds have been used to bring HMOs under local Planning control by Exeter, Brighton and Hove, Leeds, Charnwood (Loughborough Uni), Nottingham, Oxford and Cheshire West and Chester Councils.

Why is the link with the Neighbourhood Plan important?

As Planning Permission will be required for new HMOs, there needs to be Planning criteria against which such planning applications can be assessed. Most councils have adopted policies in their Local Plans specifically focused on HMOs, with some adding Supplementary Planning Guidance, and in one example at Exeter St James, a Neighbourhood Plan has included policy on HMOs.

Its important to note that Planning can only be about ‘Land Use’ issues so can only control issues such as physical impacts on adjoining property (e.g. standards of daylighting, sunlight, outlook or privacy),  highway and traffic impacts, appropriately located on site provision of amenity space, refuse storage and car and bicycle parking, etc. It can’t control matters of personal behaviour, noise, site cleanliness etc, which are controlled through other laws.

The use of A4Ds to control HMOs may have the unintended consequence of reducing the supply of lower cost accommodation for non-students, leading to increased rent levels and housing stress, more rough sleeping, ‘dossing’ or ‘sofa surfing’, squatting, and so on.

Therefore it is important that the specific planning policies riding with an A4D requiring planning permission for HMOs should be carefully balanced, to ensure that whist further HMOs in ‘saturated’ areas may be resisted, they will be permitted in other areas where there is the capacity for more, subject to appropriate planning conditions.

See also: Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) and the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended)
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9 thoughts on “Article 4 Directions & Houses in Multiple Occupation”

  1. In my area there are a lot of “Student Houses” am I right in thinking that these will be operating illegally from June if they do not have Planning Permission to be an HMO ? or does their established use set some kind of precedent and give them exemption ?
    I am keen to make sure the new section 4 regulations are respected and would like to bring properties not following the rules to the attention of the appropriate authority. How do I do this please ?
    Is there a list somewhere of properties that DO have an HMO licence so I can distinguish between legally and illegally operating HMOs ?
    Thanks for your continuing efforts

    1. Hi, I have passed the first two points of your query on to Cornwall Council to advise us on, as we are not certain of the position and it its CC who will administer the process. On your final point the list of licensed HMOs is in the public domain and can be supplied by CC’s Private Rented Sector Housing Team.

    2. Further information from Cornwall Council: A large HMO is a specific class of housing which requires licensing (whereas) a house in shared occupancy is not (which may still be an HMO).

      So, a house that is currently in shared occupancy will be able to remain in shared occupancy without requiring planning permission after the NP and the Article 4 is made. This is because the Article 4 is not retrospectively enforced.

      Large HMO’s are quite different as there is a licensing requirement: this is HM Governments definition.

      A “house in multiple occupation” is a property rented out by at least 3 people who are not from 1 ‘household’ (eg a family) but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. It’s sometimes called a ‘house share’.

      The property must be licensed if you’re renting out a large HMO. Your property is defined as a large HMO if all of the following apply:

      it’s rented to 5 or more people who form more than 1 household
      it’s at least 3 storeys high
      tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities

      See this link

      https://www.gov.uk/house-in-multiple-occupation-licence

      To report any breach in planning use this link https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/environment-and-planning/planning/enforcement/report-a-breach-of-planning-control/

  2. 1) How will Article 4 affect properties that historically are holiday let or owner occupied through the summer and then student let 10 months of the year?

    2) How will Article 4 affect a property that has a HMO licence but is used for holiday let / owner occupied during the summer months but student let for 10 months.

    3) How long can a property with existing HMO use be left empty for renovation works etc before reverting if at all to C3 use.

    4) The control of HMO’s using Article 4 will affect available accommodation for non-students and local companies that rent small HMO’s. There are a number of local companies that rent small HMO to house their workers and also groups of professional workers that rent a house together as a way of affording local housing or saving fro deposits etc. The restriction could have an effect on local businesses and could lead to an increase in ‘sofa surfing’ and in some extreme cases rough sleeping. How will the planning policy meet the needs of these groups of people?

    5) Are the local residents/homeowners aware of the likely impact Article 4 may have on residential house prices, especially in heavily populated student areas. Some Article 4 cities have reported a 20% decrease in residential property prices.

    6) How long can a property be empty i.e: for refurbishment where existing established HMO use already exists before it would not count as a C4.

    7) How will the Council/Town monitor unlicensed/smaller HMO’s?

    1. Hi, and thank you for your enquiries. These are questions that need a response from Cornwall Council so I have asked that Council’s Community Liaison Officer to investigate and respond. I will post the reply as soon as it is available.

    2. I have received the following response from Cornwall Council:
      1) How will Article 4 affect properties that historically are holiday let or owner occupied through the summer and then student let 10 months of the year?

      2) How will Article 4 affect a property that has a HMO licence but is used for holiday let / owner occupied during the summer months but student let for 10 months.

      The Article 4 only affects new uses, existing premises can apply for a certificate of lawful use if they wish to have proof of their existing use
      http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/environment-and-planning/planning/planning-advice-and-guidance/lawful-development-certificates/

      3) How long can a property with existing HMO use be left empty for renovation works etc before reverting if at all to C3 use.

      Professional planning advice should be sought for any premises in this situation to establish the lawful use of the premises and to avoid the loss of that lawful use.

      4) The control of HMO’s using Article 4 will affect available accommodation for non-students and local companies that rent small HMO’s. There are a number of local companies that rent small HMO to house their workers and also groups of professional workers that rent a house together as a way of affording local housing or saving fro deposits etc. The restriction could have an effect on local businesses and could lead to an increase in ‘sofa surfing’ and in some extreme cases rough sleeping. How will the planning policy meet the needs of these groups of people?

      The policy does not apply retrospectively . The local plan seeks to provide alternative student accommodation thereby freeing up existing HMOs to meet the needs of the wider population.

      5) Are the local residents/homeowners aware of the likely impact Article 4 may have on residential house prices, especially in heavily populated student areas. Some Article 4 cities have reported a 20% decrease in residential property prices.

      Because there are a range of factors affecting property prices it is impossible to make specific comments on property values. Arguments have also been made about an uplift in values as a consequence of a direction.

      6) How long can a property be empty i.e: for refurbishment where existing established HMO use already exists before it would not count as a C4.

      The question relates to whether the existing use is abandoned or not (similar to the question asked above) expert advice should be sought to ensure the existing use is recorded protect any existing use rights. However a properties use isn’t usually abandoned when it undergoes a short period of building works.

      7) How will the Council/Town monitor unlicensed/smaller HMO’s?

      Any new HMOs reported to the Council will be investigated by the enforcement team
      https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/environment-and-planning/planning/enforcement/report-a-breach-of-planning-control/

    1. Hi, that is now the position in Falmouth too. Having more than two unrelated people is Use Class C4 which are homes with between 3 and 6 unrelated individuals who share basic amenities. New HMOs will need to apply for planning permission. Existing HMOs will not be affected, and won’t need to apply for retrospective planning permission, unless they revertback to a non-HMO. See
      https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/20221170/falmouth-article-4-direction-confirmed.pdf for the Notice.

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