What is an Article 4 direction for an HMO?

An article 4 direction is a planning power that gives a local council extra controls over property development by amending permitted development rights.

Permitted development rights are the actions a homeowner can take to alter their property without having to apply for planning permission.

The typical use of an article 4 direction governs the look of homes in a conservation area, where a council wants the streets to retain a specific character, so special planning rules govern how residents can change their homes – like dictating the colours of front doors, types of windows or stone used for construction.

Councils are also looking to article 4 directions to restrict the number of small houses in multiple occupation opening in their area.

An article 4 direction for HMOs refers to Article 4(1) of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, as amended.

Taking on the power of the direction lets a council require a planning application from any property owner wanting to change the use of a residential property from a single family home to a house in multiple occupation (HMO) for three to five unrelated tenants.

These properties are ‘small HMOs’ – larger HMOS for six or more tenants already need planning permission.

Not all councils have applied for an article 4 direction to manage the number of small HMOs in their areas.

Small HMOs already trading before a council imposed an effective date for planning permission do not need to make any application – but they will probably need an HMO licence from the council.

A point to watch is switching planning classes – a property owner does not need planning permission to switch a small HMO to a single let, but will need to apply for planning permission if the property is changed back to a small HMO after the article 4 direction effective date.

For example, the effective date for needing planning permission is April 1, 2012. Since October 2010, a property has been let to three students as a small HMO. At the end of term in July 2012, the owner decides to let to a single tenant for 12 months and then to change the home back in to a student let for three tenants from October 2013. The property will need planning permission from October 2013.

Changing ownership of an established small HMO will not trigger any planning requirement.

Cities with article 4 planning powers for small HMOs [Opens in new window]

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