New (Small) Houses in Multiple Occupation (C4 HMOs) and Planning Permission

No need for permission…

Historically, small HMOs (up to 6 occupants) were not distinct from regular family occupied dwellings in terms of their planning status. Until April 2010, the Use Class Order (The Town and Country Planning [Use Classes] Order 1987 [as amended]) did not include any specific classification covering HMOs. Up until that time, shared properties with up to six occupiers were not distinguished from residential properties in family/single occupancy use, and fell within the C3 dwellinghouses classification. This meant that a dwelling could be used as an HMO of up to 6 occupants, without any need for planning permission as it did not represent a change in use class.

Until… the C4 HMO use class was introduced

In 2010 a new Use Class was introduced - C4 (houses in multiple occupation) under The Town and Country Planning Act (Use Classes) (Amendment) Order 2010 (SI 2010/653). This effectively split the old Class C3 (dwellinghouses) into 2 separate classes and initially meant that planning permission was required for change of use to a small HMO C4 use class.

No need for permission, again, thanks to the introduction of Permitted Development rights for small HMOs

However, shortly after this, the government introduced legislation making it easier for dwellings to be changed to HMOs. Under The Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (No 2) (England) Order 2010 (SI 2010 No. 2134), Permitted Development rights were granted for a change of use from C3 to C4. Article 3 of The General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) grants permission for a range of developments set out in Schedule 2 of the GPDO, so that development which falls within Schedule 2 can be carried out without applying to the Local Planning Authority for express permission. Class L of Schedule 2 provides that:

Class L – small HMOs to dwellinghouses and vice versa

Permitted development

L.  Development consisting of a change of use of a building—

(a)from a use falling within Class C4 (houses in multiple occupation) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order, to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of that Schedule;

(b)from a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order, to a use falling within Class C4 (houses in multiple occupation) of that Schedule.

So, the default position at that point was that anyone wishing to use a dwelling as a small HMO could do so without planning permission.


Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) gives councils the power to make Directions which withdraw Permitted Development Rights. Following such a Direction, planning permission would then be necessary for development to which the Article 4 Direction relates.

Since 2010, many councils have introduced these Article 4 Directions, removing permitted development rights for change of use to HMOs. This can cover specific neighbourhoods, or the entire council area.

An important point to remember is that an Article 4 Direction cannot take effect retrospectively, so if a property was being used as an HMO prior to the Article 4 Direction, then it can continue to be used like that, without needed to apply for planning permission.

If you are an HMO landlord and your local council has plans to introduce an Article 4 Direction to restrict HMOs, it is important to be aware of the implications for your properties. It is highly advisable to apply for a Certificate of Lawful Use (CLOPUD) to formalise the planning status, which WEA Planning can help you obtain. Similarly, if an Article 4 Direction has already been introduced, you can still apply for a Certificate of Existing Lawful Use, supported by sufficient evidence to show that the property has been used as an HMO for a period of time (4 or 10 years, depending on the council) or prior to the Article 4 coming into force. For new HMOs in these areas, a full planning application will be required. In turn the requirement for a full planning application results in scrutiny from the Local Planning Authority and the application of potentially strict policies. 

WEA Planning can advise and help you obtain the necessary certificates or planning permissions. Please contact us today to discuss your project. 


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