Last week the Welsh government altered its planning definitions.
The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2016 introduced the C4 planning use class for Wales, mimicking that found in England.
The Use Classes
After the amendment there are now two relevant use classes for privately rented residential property. The C3 use class is for single households of any size were the definition of household is the same as the one use for HMO licensing under the Housing Act 2004. In other words, a household must be a family with some form of direct relationship. A group of friends living together, however close they are, will not fit the description.
The new C4 use class is for HMOs (again as defined in the Housing Act 2004) with up to 6 occupiers. Any HMOs with more occupiers will not fall into this use class and will be outside all use classes. That means that any sharers who are not one family (three friends for example) will now fall in the new C4 use class.
Movement from one use class to another is not automatically development which requires a planning consent but it is indicative of a situation where planning consent might be required. Therefore a change in use from a single family to HMO use, even just friends sharing, will potentially require planning consent.
Planning and HMO Licensing
Planning consent operates independently from HMO licensing. So planning consent for C4 use does not guarantee an HMO licence will be granted and the granting of an HMO licence does not provide any certainty that planning consent for C4 use will be given. Additionally, the C4 use class applies to all HMOs, even those that do not require licensing.
There is also a change to the General Permitted Development Order, created by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2016. This permits a change of use from C4 to C3 use without seeking planning permission. However, this does not allow movement the other way.
Difference From England
England also introduced the two new use classes and the same one-way permitted development shortly before the 2010 general election. Immediately after the election the new government amended the permitted development order further to allow movement from the C3 to C4 use class. Wales has replicated the position as it stood immediately before the election without the liberalisation created by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition after the election. Ironically, with the Welsh Assembly election due in a few months it remains to be seen whether the new government will keep things the same or will offer the same relaxation as appeared in England.
Individual planning authorities retain the right to opt out of a permitted development order by making an article 4 direction. This seems unlikely to happen at this stage.
The Practical Effects
Any property currently in use as an HMO can continue to be used that way. However, if a property has been used as an HMO is then used as a family home it may be difficult to use it as an HMO again. Going forward any further conversion of property to an HMO use is likely to be difficult.
Some Practical Advice
If a landlord is using a property as an HMO they would be well advised to ensure that they have evidence of historical use. Before buying a property for that use it would also be sensible to establish that there is evidence of historic use. As long as this exists it will be possible to continue HMO use. However, there should be no expectation that further family homes can be moved to HMO use and anyone considering doing so should look to obtain an outline planning permission or a Certificate of Lawful Planned Use or Development before investing substantial funds. The long-term effect is likely to be a reduction in HMO property in Wales and a limit on more properties being used in this way.