Do you need planning permission to turn a house or flat into a HMO ? Simple answer is yes but...
Newly married and basking in the joys of securing planning permission a second time over, my wife and I were on our way to see family. It was late September 2017 and whilst on Baring Road leading to grove park; I received a phone call from a lady who said she saw my work on the planning application in West London. She said that I had done a great job and that she had been keeping tabs on the outcome.
My excitement of how another person saw my small successes was breathtaking
I did not expect anyone to be following any of my work, considering that I did not promote my services. The person found my details on the planning consent I achieved in the apartment above the shop. The person was a nearby property and land owner. My excitement of how another person saw my small successes was breathtaking. I didn’t market my services, but it would appear that I was experiencing the real meaning of success leaves clues.
We spoke briefly, but then I said, I would give the Client a call once I am in a position to speak in detail.
The conversation with the Client and meeting
The Client explained that they had recently purchased a property and wanted to change it to a Housing of Multiple Occupation (“HMO”). The Client wanted to me provide planning and design services. The Client also wanted me to look at some land that they owned nearby to consider its planning merits. I made it clear to the Client that my approach is relational and collaborative. We agreed that we would firstly focus on the securing of planning consent for the HMO before moving onto the backland development. I was so excited that my work spoke for itself and anyone that knows me can attest to the fact that I treat everything I work on with care as if it was my own.
I felt like an established consultant, meeting Clients in the heart of London, I was winning.
The Client was keen to meet me, so we arranged a meeting on Thursday 6th October 2017 in a pub next to Westminster station. I felt like an established consultant, meeting Clients in the heart of powerhouse in London, I was winning.
After the meeting, I sent my terms which were signed quickly, and I was then ready to get my Client the result they so desired.
The property was a maisonette with commercial on the ground floor which comprises of three bedrooms, a living and dining room. The maisonette was accessed from the rear.
The proposal was for the change of use from a 3-bedroom maisonette into a 6-bedroom HMO with a loft conversion and dormer structure to the rear of the site.
Through my research, there were not any HMO properties within the parade. Therefore the HMO planning application was to be the first within that small parade of houses, and there was pressure on me to deliver.
What is an HMO ?
The C4 use class (HMO) is accommodation for up to six persons who are unrelated within a particular property. Anything more than six people would fall into the Sui-generis use class (a class on its own) and permitted development not being applicable.
Permitted development or full planning (The trip up)
In considering my approach to advising the Client, I considered whether permitted development rights would be applicable when changing the residential property into an HMO. There was a suitable mechanism with the permitted development rights which allowed for the change of use from C3 (dwelling) to C4 (HMO). I mentioned to the Client that there is a potential that Permitted Development rights would be applicable, and of course, they were happy with my view on it (the trip up).
I learned that it is crucial to do your research in full, before providing a view as it is essential not to raise the expectations of the Client.
However, from further research on planning portal, I was able to establish that as the residential element was in actual fact a maisonette, permitted development would not be applicable, and a full planning application would be required. The Client was unhappy or should I say livid as they were optimistic about my initial view and understood the planning challenges that lied ahead (the fall).
From this experience, I learned that it is crucial to do your research in full, before providing a view as it is essential not to raise the expectations of the Client (getting up stronger)
I assured the Client that I would work hard in ensuring the best scheme the best outcome for the project.
Compiling the application
When designing an HMO scheme, each Council has specific space standards that need to must be incorporated into your design. I visited the property and did a full measurement required to produce the existing floor plans. I completed a checklist to ensure that I did not miss out on any key details. As always, I took a heap of photos of the internal and external to ensure that I could refer back to them if needed.
With time, we learn to work smarter not harder
This time, I got someone else to produce the floor plans with me providing input into the proposed design by reviewing the design against the space standards and making recommendations. With time, we learn to work smarter not harder. I am competent in the use of AutoCad but as it was not something I used frequently, I thought why not use those around me who produce floor plans all the time.
There is generally no room to manoeuvre around the space standards, its either you meet it, or you don’t. A proposed design was put together and presented to the Client for comment.
Meeting with the Client’s builder
The Client was happy with the drawings produced but wanted their builder to give their view on the plans. Their builder made some excellent practical suggestions which allowed for us to utilise the space better. Builders generally have practical suggestions, so be sure to use their expertise, especially if you have them around at your disposal at the design stage.
Submission and approval
Having produced the drawings, downloaded the site plan, produced a design/ access statement together with filling out the planning application form, I was good to submit. I had regard for the space standards, kitchen, refuse, storage spaces and bathroom facilities. Once I received the Client’s consent, the application was submitted on the 20th December 2017.
As with previous applications, there was back and forth with planners in which I responded with my signature dose of positivity. I personally had to make many changes to the proposed design during the determination stage which took up a lot of my evenings and weekends.
After a painstaking five months of back and forth, the decision came in on 25th May 2018, and it was to approve the application. The Client was happy; I was elated that I got yet another approval. This application was the first HMO planning application to be accepted within the parade of houses.
That’s not all
So many people think that getting an HMO license negates the need to secure planning permission. Be mindful that there is a clear difference between a license and planning permission. A license is used to ensure you are providing suitable habitable accommodation, whereas a planning application would consider the impacts of a proposal on a local area.
Once the planning consent was secured, I then moved onto submitting for an HMO license on the Client’s behalf.
Inspire confidence- On my first two instructions, I was nervous, but after securing planning permission on the two previously, I grew confident in my ability and was able to show this to my Client.
Do your research to ensure you come to considered view before advising your Client. My mishap was minor overall but served as a lesson to always be on you’re a game.
If you trip and fall, jump up stronger- In my case, I gave an opinion that appeared more straightforward which raised expectations only for me to bring those high spirits down. My only remedy was to get the desired result, which was my focus and by God's grace, I the consent.
Know the difference between an HMO License and planning permission. So many people have been served enforcement notices because they did not know the difference between the two. Do not fall into that category of people.
Finally, do not forget to apply for an HMO license once planning permission is secured. The process is relatively straight forward but if in doubt, contact your local authority.
Any questions on this experience, please feel free to get in touch with me.
Reading for those who are interested
New on Permitted Development space standards Click here
Permitted Development rights 2015- Click here- Skip to Class L on page 34
What is an Article 4 direction- Click here