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Written by rosalind renshaw

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.


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    Sorry, meant to say Disability and Equalities Act 2010.

    • 30 August 2011 16:02 PM
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    Fred K states: "Some landlords joke - may soon see advertisments with "Sorry No DSS and No families." Hopefully this may never happen - but many a true word.."

    The "DSS" doesn't actually exist and hasn't done for years, and to advertise refusal to consider "DSS" tenants is in fact in breach of the Disability Act and therefore a crimial offence as it implies that any person claiming any type of benefit is excluded from being a potential tenant.

    • 30 August 2011 16:00 PM
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    This un-thought-out legislation has all come from a failure of Grant Shapps to bury the planning directive introduced in the death throes of the previous government.
    How on earth is it to be policed? Will neighbourhood watch take on a whole new meaning?
    I have already had clients asking me not to renew to families as they want established use before the article four directive expires. I know of landlords who have applied for a license as an HMO on a property let to C3 usage just so that they can have "evidence" of established use.
    What is particularly frightening to me is that this may serve to drive more residential lettings underground and into the hands of the less scrupulous landlords. It will be those who will simply fabricate "tenancy agreements" to demonstrate established C4 usage and even intimidate neighbours to "give evidence". It will also serve to impact on property values; there are some parts of the city where values are so linked to yield that should a C3 property come on the market, and only be saleable to another family, it may be worth up to 30% less than the grubby HMO next door!

    • 30 August 2011 12:21 PM
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    To the best of my knowledge, an Article 4 is not retroactive, hence cannot be applied to properties currently let as HMOs. Established use demonstrated via current AST?

    Milton Keynes immediate implementation seen as "fit of pique" for being refused leave to apply for judicial revue of coalition's decision for need of Art4 to introduce change of use code. Risk claims from landlords for "loss of earnings" - but not aware of any such claims as yet.

    Some landlords joke - may soon see advertisments with "Sorry No DSS and No families." Hopefully this may never happen - but many a true word...

    • 30 August 2011 10:31 AM
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    I used to be a landlord and homeowner in Oxford and this is clearly a very sensible move by Oxford CC: it makes complete sense to arbitrarily restrict HMOs to one in every 100 yards, irrespective of tenant demand, local problems reported by residents, or the quality of the property. It is important to restrict the population of the city and drive single people and couples away, forcing them to live in the surrounding towns and villages and commute to work or college - after all, it's not as if Oxford has any problems with traffic.

    Oxford's Environmental Health department has long demonstrated its utter incompetence at enforcing the law to deal with the tiny minority of poor-quality properties and problem landlords. The use of Article 4 Directions is a convenient cover for the failure of the city to use the ample legislation already available to it. It's also a valuable revenue earner: £470 to register and £172 to renew. Why do't they just charge £2470 and £1172 and have done with picking their random numbers?

    If I were an Oxford landlord, I would be encouraging my tenants to adopt complex menage-a-trois living arrangements and challenge the council to prove they are not in a "relationship" or "unrelated".

    How exactly does Oxford propose to house 18-35 single people on benefits, when it is doing its best to discourage the formation of new HMOs? How does this encourage an adequate supply of housing for single people, or discourage rent inflation?

    • 30 August 2011 09:44 AM
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    Let's face it, it's just another money making scam introduced by the goverment to generate more revenue, that's all it is!

    • 30 August 2011 09:35 AM
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    Good article, however Oxford City Council are not the first local authority to implement this controversial planning policy (called an Artcle 4 Direction) - Milton Keynes Council actually did this back in December 2010.

    This is a huge problem for landlords, tenants AND homeowners - BE WARNED, this Article 4 Direction applies to both 'owner-occupiers' and 'tenant occupiers' taking in lodgers. However, quite unfairly, the rules are different for 'tenant-occupiers', when taking in just ONE lodger would make the property an HMO.

    • 30 August 2011 09:04 AM
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