Oxford City Council is to become the first authority in the country to enforce a controversial new planning regime which will force landlords to seek planning permission if they intend letting a small property to sharers. It has warned that planning consents will be strictly rationed as it bids to control HMOs.
From next February, any landlord planning to let a house to three or more sharers will have to apply for planning permission for change of use if the property is not currently an HMO.
The move, fiercely opposed by landlord bodies, will mean that a landlord with a three-bed property currently let to a family will have to seek planning consent for change of use to an HMO if the property is then let to group of three unrelated sharers.
Each of these new smaller HMOs will have to be licensed, at a cost of £470 plus annual renewal fee of £172. It is thought that the additional licensing powers will hugely increase the number of HMOs that must be licensed in the city, from 600 to more than 4,000.
However, the city council has warned that it will not grant planning permission for change of use for more than one in five properties in any 100-yard stretch of road.
Oxford City Council says it is bringing in the measures, allowed by the coalition, to stop the city being over-run by poor-quality HMOs.
It also wants the colleges themselves to provide more purpose-built accommodation.
Whilst Oxford will be the first, it will not be the last. Dozens of other local authorities in student towns and cities are also introducing the requirement for planning permission and licensing.
Landlord bodies and specialist letting agencies have said that the change will result in less accommodation for students, and have warned that student accommodation provided by colleges or private suppliers is generally much more expensive.
Nor will the crackdown affect just students – critics point out that it could also affect young professional sharers such as nurses.
There is also the problem of a property continually having to change its status. For example, a property in one year could be rented by a hospital doctor and his family. If the following year it is to be shared by three nurses, the landlord will first have to apply for planning consent for change of use. If in year three, the property goes back to being rented by a single household, it will not be necessary to apply for change of use. But if in year four, it returns to being rented by a small group of sharers, change of use would have to be applied for.