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Written by rosalind renshaw

Councils the length and spread of Britain are using planning laws to prohibit private landlords turning their properties into small Houses in Multiple Occupations – six months ahead of the time when they will be needed most.

According to different landlord bodies, Article 4 directions to control properties being converted into small HMOs are “popping up left, right and centre”.

Landlords are being stymied by local authorities from attempting to offer a market solution to what homeless charities are warning could be a serious problem.

Planned changes to the Shared Accommodation Rate kick in next January and will mean that an estimated 88,000 25 to 34-year-olds on housing benefit will have to seek shared HMO accommodation, virtually all of which would be in the private rented sector.

From the New Year, changes to the rules mean that single people up to the age of 35 will no longer be able to live in their own self-contained rental flats. Instead, it will only cover shared accommodation.

But landlords who are currently renting properties out to a single household will now have to seek planning permission in a growing number of towns if they want to let the same property out to three, four or five people sharing. The chances are that planning permission will be turned down.

The Article 4 device was given to the councils as a perfectly legal cop-out by the Government. Local authorities which do not use Article 4 directions are assumed to have automatically permitted rental properties to be occupied by either one household or by up to six sharers.

The current list of known local authorities using Article 4 directions to prevent HMOs, includes:

• Bath

• Bournemouth

• Brighton

• Bristol

• Canterbury

• Charnwood (Loughborough, Leics)

• Durham

• Exeter

• Leeds

• Manchester

• Milton Keynes

• Newcastle-upon-Tyne

• Northampton

• Oxford

• Portsmouth

• Preston

• Redbridge (Ilford, East London)

• Sheffield

• Thanet (Margate, Kent)

Others are in the pipeline, such as Southampton City Council.

Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation, said: “The Government’s policy on housing for young people is wholly contradictory at present.

“On the one hand the Government wishes to change housing benefit payments to encourage up to 88,000 young people into shared accommodation. On the other hand, local authorities up and down the country are increasingly blocking the provision of houses in multiple occupancy, without having a clue whether they need more shared homes or not.

“Take Southampton, for example, which does not know how many shared houses it has or how many shared houses it needs, but is sure it does not want more of them, despite central Government policy creating more need for them.

“Councils should at least be under some sort of obligation to do a proper assessment of supply and need before they start reaching for Article 4 directions.”


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    Does anyone know if this legislation applies to properties that are already rented by a private landlord to several individuals? Will the landlord still have to apply for planning permission in January, or will he just be allowed to carry on as before? I live in a semi-det, where the neighbours seem to change every six months. In the past, the property has been let to both families and individuals at different times. The individuals have been far more disruptive and noisy than the families - usually because they are young lads from overseas who do not know the laws of this country and do as they please, despite endless requests to behave! Sadly I have the same scenario on the other side of my property, so am surrounded by it all. Personally, the more legislation there is to control quantities of people renting a property, the better for me!

    • 15 May 2011 08:21 AM
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    • 03 May 2011 13:37 PM
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    This is plain crazy. Effectively a landlord needs to choose whether to rent to families or sharers since he/she can't guarantee being able to switch from families to sharers. There's no risk for a landlord currently renting to sharers, but some renting to families might choose to serve notice and get sharers in before the legislation comes into effect.

    • 03 May 2011 12:48 PM
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    Not true i'm affraid James. Even if it is rented under one contract if there are more than 2 unrelated people living there it is still an HMO.

    So if you want to rent a house to three junior doctors and you currently rent to a family you will need to apply for planning permission if your council uses article 4. It's scandilous.

    • 03 May 2011 11:13 AM
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    I am all for legislation that limits HMOs. They are a scourge on neighbourhoods.

    As far as I am aware, they are not the same as shared tenancies - where the whole property is let on one agreement, HMOs are individuals renting rooms in a shared house, which results in nobody taking responsibility for the property's upkeep.

    • 03 May 2011 09:57 AM
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