Planning approval is essentially about controlling the use of land and is required to alter, extend or change the use of existing properties, or to make changes to a listed building or to a property in a conservation area. Planning approval is needed when a previously singly occupied property is converted into bedsit units or flats.
A dwelling-house normally starts with permission for a single household (a single family where all residents are related) which is known as class C3.
Class C4 is defined as being a dwelling occupied by not more than six persons as a HMO (unrelated sharers) but this class does not include a building which has been converted into flats and the conversion does not meet the appropriate building regulations (known as a section 257 HMO).
Subject to local authority exemption from the rules (see below), planning permission is not required to change the use of a dwelling from C3 (single family) to C4 (up to 6 unrelated persons sharing). This is known as a ‘permitted development’. It’s also a permitted development to change the use from class C4 (HMO) to C3 (single household).
Where there are to be seven or more sharers, planning permission would normally be required. As there is no defined class for more than six sharers, this is known as a Sui Generis use.
In a number of towns (mainly associated with large numbers of students) local authorities have obtained what are known as Article 4 directions, which means that planning permission is required for any new class C4 HMOs and the above mentioned permitted developments do not apply. HMOs that existed before these powers came into effect retain their use whilst being used as HMOs.
In each locality there will be a separate planning policy or guidance pertinent to a designated area of control. In this case, the guidance of the planning authority should be sought before undertaking any work to convert a house to an HMO as permission for this may not be forthcoming. If an existing HMO is being purchased, the purchasers should ask for confirmation from the seller (normally in the form of a letter from the relevant planning authority) that the house has been previously used as an HMO.
2.13.1 Obtaining Planning Approval
To obtain planning approval, an application with detailed drawings and payment of a fee is made to the local planning authority. The authority will consider the application, may consult with local residents and will then issue a decision with the reasons for that decision. The approval may have conditions attached.
An applicant aggrieved by the decision can appeal against it to the Planning Inspector or may negotiate with the planning authority and amend and re-submit the application.
Enforcement action can be taken against unapproved developments requiring the reinstatement of the property back to its original condition.
2.13.2 Certificate Of Lawful Use
Unapproved conversions of singly occupied houses to HMOs and flats are outside the time limits for enforcement action by planning authorities if established use can be proved for 10 years in the case of bedsit properties, and four years for buildings in flats.
After the above time periods an application can be made to the planning authority for a Certificate of Lawful Use (CLU). This means that the use of the property is lawful despite the use not having planning approval.