Briefly, there is concern that certain areas, principally where there are a lot of students are becoming dominated by HMOs. The current powers to control HMOs under Part 2 of the Housing Act 2004 provide limited scope for dealing with this at is not permissible to refuse a licence for an HMO on the basis that there are too many HMOs in the immediate area. The original consultation proposed a number of ways to resolve this issue, centering around an alteration to planning categories.
Ultimately, the intended resolution involves creating a new planning category specifically for HMOs and defining it in accordance with the definition given by s254 of the Housing Act 2004. Put simply, properties rented to three or more individuals who do not form one household (three sharers in other words) will form a separate planning category and it will be necessary to obtain planning permission for these lets.
The new planning category will be brought into existence on 6 April 2010 by an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987.
Separately, a short, 12 week, consultation has been launched to alter the method by which permissions are granted for additional and selective licensing under parts 2 and 3 of the Housing Act 2004 respectively. Additional licensing allows for local authorities to license HMOs other than those prescribed for mandatory licensing. About 12 local authorities do this across England. Selective licensing allows for the licensing on non-HMO landlords in areas of low housing demand which also have problems with anti-social behavior. 10 local authorities in England currently have consent to operate selective licensing schemes. The permission to operate additional and selective licensing is a devolved competency in Wales and so this consultation has no application there.
The current process requires each local authority to carry out a consultation process in its area and then seek consent from the Secretary of State to actually carry through the new licensing designation. What is proposed is to grant a blanket permission for additional and selective licensing in England, thereby removing the need for the Secretary to grant consent in each case. Each local authority will still need to carry out a consultation but that will be all that is needed.
This proposal looks set to be carried through but, given that a number of requests to the Secretary of State have been rejected in the past it seems unwise to remove this check. One suspects that the position will be filled by the judicial review process if local authorities do not carry out the consultations to a suitable standard.