HMO Planning Permission in 2024 (How To Get Approved Faster)

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So, you’re eyeing your next HMO, or you’ve bought one already, but now you’re wading through permitted development, Article 4, use classes and potential objections It’s easy to second-guess every decision when you’re knee-deep in planning permissions and compliance worries. You’re not alone—HMO regulations are constantly shifting, and a single misstep could cost you big time—think massive fines or worse. But there’s good news: we’ve compiled this guide to help you find your way, drawing from our years of experience dealing with councils and other HMO experts.

Let’s take the guesswork out of HMO planning permission so you can focus on building your property portfolio.

Jump to:

 

WHAT IS AN HMO? (A REMINDER)

An HMO (or House of Multiple Occupancy) is a type of property owned by a landlord or company and rented out as a primary residence to several unrelated people at the same time. The HMO occupants share a kitchen, bathroom, and other communal facilities. 

You can think of HMOs as when you were a student at Uni and lived in student halls with your friends on a property owned or leased by the University or even in a house shared with a bunch of random strangers. Yes, that’s, in principle, what HMOs are.

 

WHAT IS HMO PLANNING?

As HMOs can have anywhere from three to seven and even more people living in them, the use of kitchen appliances and other facilities can sometimes pose a risk. For that reason, councils have designed rules based on the number of people living in the house. 

Put simply, HMO planning is the formal approval from the council or local authority for the conversion, building or development of Use Class C4 (small HMO) and Sui Generis (large HMO). We’ll explain the different use classes later, but for now, let’s agree that planning permission is getting the Council to say ‘Yes’ to your proposed changes or development.

The Government first defined and agreed upon HMO Planning in the Housing Act of 2004.

 

IS PLANNING PERMISSION REQUIRED FOR AN HMO? 

The direct answer is that it depends on the property’s current use class and the number of occupants. To illustrate how each factor counts:

If you rent a property to 7 or more unrelated people, it’s classed as a Sui Generis HMO and planning permission is compulsory, regardless of the number of bedrooms.

Similarly, if the area lies within Article 4 Direction, it means the local council has added restrictions, and you’ll also need planning permission, regardless of the number of occupants. We’ve more details on Article 4 areas below.

Before moving on, let’s consider that each council has the flexibility to interpret policies differently; this is the case for Article 4 Direction, so it’s always best to keep an eye on updates and consultations launched by the government. They can bring relevant changes to how the property market operates, either by relaxing regulations —think the elimination of council tax per bedroom for HMOs — or by incorporating new codes such as the proposed planning permission for AirBnB.

 

HMO USE CLASSES  

Let’s start with the basics of Use Classes. The Government classifies the different types of property and land into various classes to streamline usage and development.

When a property is designated as C class, it falls into the residential category. This category can mean a single-family home (in the case of a Buy-To-Let) or a property designed for multiple tenants, like in an HMO.

In the context of HMOs, the three main types of planning use classes are:  

  1. C3 Use Class  
  2. C4 Use Class  
  3. Sui Generis Use Class

Let’s take a look at what this classification entails.

C3 USE CLASS

The C3 class covers residential dwellings or houses. This category covers a variety of living situations, including single-family homes occupied by a single person or family, an employer and certain domestic employees, a carer and person receiving care and a foster parent and foster child.

C4 USE CLASS  

The C4 Class covers properties occupied by up to six unrelated people who use the property as their only primary house and share amenities such as a kitchen and bathroom—HMOs with three to six residents belong to this class.

 “HMO stands for ‘house in multiple occupation’ which is a property occupied by more than two unrelated people.”  This broad HMO definition includes both C4 and Sui Generis.

SUI GENERIS USE CLASS  

‘Sui Generis’ is a Latin term meaning “of its own kind”. In the context of Use Classes, anything non-standard, with specific or unique characteristics, such as a theatre, nightclub, cinema, fuel station, dance hall, betting shop and notably, any large HMO (those not covered under C4), falls into this category.

In other words, if seven or more unrelated people live in a house and share a common kitchen, bathroom, or other facilities, the corresponding class is Sui Generis.

C3, C4 AND SUI GENERIS USE CLASSES

Planning Permission (C3-C4-SuiGeneris)

This change of use guide is an excellent read about the various housing classes.

 

WHAT IS AN ARTICLE 4 AREA? 

You may have come across the term Article 4 in a property podcast or while taking a course. But before we dive into Article 4 Direction, let’s provide some context on permitted developments. 

  • Permitted Development refers to the automatic approval by the local authority for construction or change of use within an area.
  • In response to a surge in HMOs in busy city centres, university towns, and areas linked to labour-intensive industries like airports, factories and warehouses, local authorities added restrictions to ensure safe living conditions. 
  • Councils felt that HMOs affected the local area in tangible ways, including parking requirements and traffic, refusal collection and environmental concerns, as well as the impact on the character of the area.
  • High concentrations of HMOs are also a threat to the existing family housing stock. While a reasonable number of HMOs can contribute to the regeneration of a specific area, an excessive concentration can dramatically change the local community, potentially pushing families away from a particular district.

 

Article 4 directives restrict the conversion of properties from C3 (single-family homes) to C4 (HMO), meaning you must submit a full planning application to make that change legally. This regulation adds an extra step to the conversion process, requiring approval from the local planning authority before you can operate an HMO in an area under Article 4.

It is worth noting that Article 4 restrictions can vary greatly depending on the city or town. These restrictions apply everywhere in some places, whereas they target specific areas or even individual streets in others. 

To know if an Article 4 Directive applies to your property, you’ll need to check the council’s website for the specific rules and scope in the area.

 

DO I NEED PLANNING PERMISSION FOR A 6-BED HMO?

Most 6-bed HMOs don’t need planning permission, and you can operate an HMO without it. However, as mentioned before, if the area lies within Article 4 Direction, you will need planning permission regardless of the number of people living there—whether it is a small or large HMO.

The only HMOs exempt from planning in an Article 4 area are those up to 6 bedrooms the Council has already labelled as C4 Use Class.

Thus, if you are buying an HMO in an Article 4 area, here’s what you need to verify:

  1. Tenancy History: Obtain records of past Tenancy Agreements from the previous landlord. This will help prove that the property has been used as an HMO for several years.
  2. HMO Licensing: Ask the previous landlord for details about the HMO licence. While these licenses are not transferable to new landlords, they can prove that the property has been used as an HMO.
  3. Lawful Development Certificate: Check the Local City Council’s Planning Portal to see if an approved “Lawful Development Certificate” validates the property’s use as an HMO.

 

If the property has a valid Lawful Development Certificate, you don’t need additional evidence from points 1 and 2. However, if it doesn’t, you’ll need the Tenancy History and the HMO licensing (points 1 and 2) to demonstrate to the Council that the property has been operating and can continue as an HMO in an Article 4 area.

 

HOW CAN I GET HMO PLANNING PERMISSION?

Now that you have the basics of HMO planning permission and know whether you need it for your property, how do you get it? There are two important cases to consider here:  

The property is within an Article 4 Directive  

In this case, full planning permission is required. 

As nice as it would be, most councils do not entertain a pre-planning application to check if they would grant planning before you buy the property.

To overcome this challenge, we recommend looking at comparable properties operating as HMOs and speaking to architects, solicitors, and planning consultants in the local area.  This will give you an idea of the likelihood of successful planning permission before you buy the property.

That said, you can always buy the property subject to approval from planning permission (providing you negotiate a “subject to” offer with the vendor).

The property is NOT located within an Article 4 Directive  

In such cases, full planning permission is NOT required, and you can get consent through permitted development. 
 

5 TOP INSIGHTS TO BOOST YOUR HMO PLANNING APPLICATION

Are you wondering how to improve your chances of getting a successful planning application for a 7-bed HMO?

  • Scale-up gradually: One effective strategy is to start with a 6-bed HMO and secure the necessary approvals, then apply for the 7th bedroom once the property is up and running.
  • Expect longer timelines: Planning approval for large HMOs with 7 or more bedrooms can take two months to a full year, and longer. Generally, the higher the density, the longer the process.
  • Choose properties with enough space: To streamline the approval process, go for properties suitable for the established number of bedrooms and with sufficient room for a kitchen, dining, and living areas. A good layout reduces complications and helps move your application along.
  • Plan for extra costs and reports: Larger Sui Generis HMOs require additional documentation, such as Transport Statements, Planning Statements, and Noise Assessments. These documents typically show that the property can comfortably accommodate the proposed number of occupants.
  • Fewer rooms for simplicity: Remember that fewer rooms and occupants generally mean fewer reports, lower fees, and a shorter planning process. This could be a more straightforward route for your first HMO application.

 

HMO PLANNING COST 

Here’s a breakdown of the fees you can expect when applying for planning permission.

Planning Type

*Fee

Lawful Development Certificate for Proposed Use

£289 (£70 Planning Portal Service Charge)

Lawful Development Certificate for Existing Use

£578 (£70 Planning Portal Service Charge)

Full Planning Change of Use

£578 (£70 Planning Portal Service Charge)

Householder alternations

£258 (£70 Planning Portal Service Charge)

*All fees are indicative and might change according to the Local City Council Policies.

 

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T HAVE HMO PLANNING PERMISSION?  

So, what happens if you proceed without obtaining planning permission? This results in a “planning breach.” 

Two scenarios can lead to a planning breach:  

  1. Planning was not applied for or was refused, but construction requiring planning was still carried out.  
  2. The construction was carried out in violation of one or more conditions outlined in the granted planning permission.  

 

Let’s say your project falls under one of these two situations. 

To clarify, a planning breach is not necessarily illegal. The council may permit retrospective planning where permission was not initially obtained. However, if the retrospective application is unsuccessful, the council may issue an enforcement notice requiring you to return the property to its original state. 

It’s against the law to disobey enforcement notices, and if you refuse to comply, they could prosecute you in a court of law. 
 

PLANNING PERMISSION OBJECTIONS: REAL EXAMPLES FROM OUR PRACTICE 

I’d like to share some concrete examples where planning permission became a significant obstacle. Here’s what can happen if you proceed without planning permission: 

In a project in Milton Keynes, we ran into a severe roadblock with a planned 6-bedroom HMO in an Article 4 area. The local rule stated that the concentration of HMOs in the area shouldn’t exceed 30%, and despite a great design, the Council blocked our application, and we had to withdraw it. Since then, we’ve adopted a more cautious approach when dealing with HMOs in Article 4 areas, continuously checking and tracking if the Council has additional restrictions, in particular, any of the following three requirements—as each one of these could turn into a deal-breaker: 

  • Proof of attempted sale: Is there proof that the property has been marketed as a family house for the last six months without success? Councils may enforce such criteria to safeguard family housing. 
  • Sandwiched HMO: Are any adjacent or neighbouring properties already used as an HMO? —Consider that each council can interpret the policy differently. 
  • HMO Concentration: Is the concentration of HMOs within a 50-metre radius higher than a certain percentage? —Again, verifying local regulations for specific % and guidelines is crucial. 

 

In another project in Barnsley involving a 7-bedroom HMO, the Council rejected the application because they planned to introduce Article 4 restrictions. In this case, Article 4 Direction wasn’t officially in place yet, but the Council acted as if it was. The developer could have appealed but opted to convert the property into flats instead. 

The key takeaway from these experiences is always to check whether Article 4 is in effect—or if there’s a chance it could be introduced—and to understand what that might mean for your project. As you can see, the unsuccessful cases link to Article 4 restrictions. Otherwise, reasonable HMO developments generally go through planning. 

 

COMMON PLANNING PERMISSION OBJECTIONS AND HOW TO SOLVE THEM 

OK, let’s say you’ve done all the hard work. You’ve sourced a winning property, got the offer accepted, found out if you need planning, prepared the application and are now ready to submit. How can you maximise your chances of a successful application?  

Let’s start with the most common objections to planning and see how you can overcome them.

 

EXTERNAL REASONS FOR REJECTIONS  

Neighbours 

One of the most common causes of objections is your neighbours. If your building work affects them or their property in any way, they may file complaints that lead to planning objections. For instance, if your proposed construction blocks their view or lighting on their property, it’s almost certain you’ll face objections. 

Some ways you could show responsibility towards neighbours are: 

  • Prepare an effective HMO letting management plan to show how you’ll keep the property well-managed and minimise disruption to the neighbourhood. 
  • Emphasise the high-quality standards you intend to achieve in your HMO. 
  • Underline the type of tenants you’ll attract, such as professionals or students, and specify any restrictions relevant to your project and the community. 

 

Speaking to your neighbours before submitting your planning application and explaining your proposal is good practice. Yes, knocking on their doors will take a little bit of courage, but trust me, it will pay off. This way, you can address any concerns and potentially gain their support, reducing the risk of planning objections. 
 

Design   

If your HMO design is not consistent with other houses on the street, the council could raise an objection. The local planning department can provide guidance on design standards for the area to help ensure your plans fit in with the neighbourhood.  

  • To maximise your chances of approval, work with a qualified and experienced designer who understands the local context and can ensure your design fits in with the surrounding architecture. This attention to detail could be the difference between approval and objection.

 

Parking   

Objections to high occupancy in an HMO often stem from concerns about insufficient parking.  

To address these issues in your planning application, consider the following: 

  • Include a transport statement in the planning submission to show that your property is close to public transport options. Also, there should be enough off-road parking spaces to accommodate tenants’ vehicles. 
  • Designate an area for bike storage in the HMO scheme. 
  • Negotiate a legal agreement with the local authority to prevent future tenants from buying local parking permits, thereby promoting the use of public transport and bikes.   
     

Waste management    

The council may raise concerns about the lack of a designated waste management area in your HMO scheme. A clear waste management strategy is crucial, especially for Sui Generis (large) HMOs.  

  • Addressing this objection is relatively straightforward and is usually enough to show where the bins will go in your HMO design plans.  

 

INTERNAL REASONS FOR REJECTIONS 

A high number of occupants   

Suppose you’ve optimised your HMO space to accommodate 10 to 12 people. However, such a large number of occupants could also raise objections. 

  • In such cases, negotiating with the local city council can go a long way in helping determine the ideal number of occupants for your property and preventing potential issues with your planning application. 

 

The communal area is too small   

If the communal area in your HMO is too small, it could raise concerns about inadequate living space and unhealthy conditions. Such concerns may also lead to objections from the council. 

  • One solution to this objection is to enlarge the communal area, even if it means losing a bedroom. 

 

Travelling distance   

If the council finds that the travel distance between the kitchen and any bedroom is more than one floor, it could lead to an objection. This issue can impact convenience and accessibility, particularly in larger properties.  

  • There are ways to negotiate this with the council, especially for existing buildings, where they might be more lenient. In many cases, councils may accept a distance of up to two floors, such as from the ground floor to the mansard level. 

 

However, the rules might be stricter if you’re converting a commercial building into residential use. Councils typically require the kitchen, dining, and living areas to be on the first floor or within a reasonable distance from the bedrooms.  

  • To address this, you may need to redesign your layout to meet these requirements, such as creating extra communal space on the first floor to reduce travel distance and ensure compliance. 

 

No place for large HMOs here  

An unusual but challenging objection you might encounter involves the council’s general resistance to Large Sui Generis HMOs, primarily due to their unpopularity among residents. Getting this objection removed is challenging, and there’s no guaranteed solution. In these cases, the only recourse may be to pursue an appeal, but there’s no assurance that it will be successful. 

  • The advice here is to do thorough due diligence before buying the property. Assess the Council’s stand on large HMO developments in the area, including any history of objections or local sentiment towards them.

 

By understanding the council’s position, you can better evaluate whether your HMO project has a chance of approval, potentially saving you precious time and money in the long run.

 

LET’S GET BUILDING   

We hope this article has given you a clearer understanding of planning permission, why it’s important, the different HMO-relevant use classes, how to apply, and how to handle objections. Consulting with an expert is always a good idea, especially one who knows the ins and outs of planning permission in your area. 

Working with an experienced architect will increase your chances of getting your planning application approved, allowing you to move forward with your HMO project and start seeing those rental returns. 

If you’d like to speak with an architect who has helped hundreds of people successfully obtain planning permission across the country, we’d be happy to talk to you. Contact us today—we’d love to help you on your journey. 

Picture of Giovanni Patania

Giovanni Patania

(Architect Director, Co-Founder)

Giovanni Patania is the Lead Architect and Co-Founder at HMO Architect and Windsor Patania Architects.

Originally from Siena, Italy, Giovanni worked as a Project Lead Architect at Foster+ Partners, designing Apple stores across the world,

An HMO Investor himself, Giovanni understands property thoroughly, both from an investor's perspective and technically, as an Architect.

With over 15 years of HMO development experience, working on over 150+ HMOs and a 95% Planning and Building Regulation success rate, Giovanni has the expertise and credentials to help you on your HMO journey."

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