Local Government Opinion Wales

HMO Planning in Wales: A War Against Students?

Student Spotlight
Dorine Pannarale
Written by Dorine Pannarale

Following the success of our previous article outlining the dangers of local authorities’ obsession with avoiding ‘studentification’ , the RLA is introducing a new Student Spotlight series, where we focus on a new student city and the local authority’s approach to landlords and lettings each month. This month’s city in the spotlight is Cardiff. 

Planning restrictions allowing for the restriction of HMO development have been in place in Wales for just over a year now.

The changes are needed, according to local authorities, to address “waste”, “increased noise and anti-social behaviour” commonly associated with HMOs, particularly those that house students.

Like England, Wales now has its own “C4” planning use classification of HMO: “tenanted living occupation by 3 to 6 people, who are not related and who share one or more basic amenities, as their only or main residence.”

Local Authorities can now require landlords to obtain planning permission in order to convert their properties from a C3 (single household/ not more than 6 residents living as a single household) to a C4 (not more than 6 residents living as an HMO) property.

Essentially, all properties with 3 to 6 (unrelated) tenants require a change of use application to be made.  For landlords with properties in Cardiff, this comes with a fee of £380, with no guarantee of approval.

Cardiff, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot have already adopted the planning restrictions, although the requirements are not necessarily uniform across Wales and can differ depending on where a landlord’s property is in Wales.

Cardiff, for example, has taken measures to restrict further HMO development by establishing thresholds for new development in its Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG).  And it has its sights set on two particular wards popular amongst university students in Cardiff- Plasnewydd and Cathays.

Landlords with properties in these wards face obstacles obtaining permission, given the growing disdain amongst Councils for areas with high concentrations of studentification.

Under the SPG, if a landlord is seeking to convert an HMO in Cathays or Plasnewydd, and more than 20% of the dwellings within a 50m radius of the proposed HMO are already established HMOs (C4 or Sui Generis), then approval for the change of use will be denied.  For the rest of Cardiff, the HMO concentration threshold is 10%.

In its consultation response to the proposed SPG, the RLA stated that the guidance will impact investment and home market values and will have detrimental impacts on vulnerable groups.

Douglas Haig, RLA director and vice-chairman for Wales, said: “This policy is discriminatory and attacks those on lower incomes and some of the most vulnerable in society. HMOs provide more affordable accommodation to a wide range of groups, not just students, as explicitly stated in the guidance itself.

“By effectively banning them you are restricting the total accommodation available with consequences for rent levels, which will increase.”

Before this change was brought in last October, in Wales the C3 planning use classification applied to all dwelling-houses up to and including six tenants.  Landlords with seven or more tenants would have to apply for planning permission as an “HMO sui generis” (“of its own class”), depending on the living arrangements of the seven tenants, i.e., if they are single household or not.

The new law aligns the definition of HMO with the definition set forth in Section 254 of the Housing Act 2004, but not including a converted block of flats to which Section 257 applies.

Further, the Town and Country Planing (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2016 came into effect on February 25th, which grants permitted development rights to allow a change of use so that buildings used as small scale HMOs (C4) shared by three to six people may subsequently be used as dwellinghouses (C3) without requiring planning permission.

In England this move was almost immediately changed on change of government because it was seen as unworkable.

Reducing the number of HMOs in key areas ultimately reduces choice for potential tenants, and devalues the price of property in the area because of the planning restriction.  It drives down investment as buyers look to other areas without the complexities of mounting red-tape requirements and restrictions.

Cardiff University Students’ Union also opposed the new requirements, calling them unwanted changes that negatively impact student communities.

Hollie Cooke, the union’s vice president of welfare, said: “By restricting, and essentially prohibiting, the development of HMOs in the Cathays areas students will be forced to move into other areas of Cardiff.

“This will not only create greater costs for students as they travel further, it will also cause individuals to rent in areas that are not used to student neighbours, causing greater community cohesion problems.

“Safety becomes a greater concern, as the frequency of students having to walk longer distances in the dark will increase and, with the same number of HMOs remaining, these restrictions do little to address the core problems highlighted as the population density in Cathays remains the same.”

If you would like to learn more about the future of renting in Wales, at the end of November the RLA is hosting a brand new, national one day conference for the private rented sector.

Hosted by the BBC Wales’ Lucy Owen, throughout the day we will hear from Rebecca Evans AM, Rent Smart Wales’ Anne Rowland, RLA Policy Director and specialist in residential and tenant law, David Smith, Cardiff Council’s, Leah Whitty, and a many more.

Future Renting Wales promises to be great and interesting day, to join us on November 30th at Cardiff’s Jury’s Inn book your tickets here.

About the author

Dorine Pannarale

Dorine Pannarale

Dorine Pannarale is a Senior Policy Officer for the RLA in Wales. She works to represent landlord interests at local meetings and her scope of duties hinges primarily on managing issues related to Rent Smart Wales, HMO licensing, and energy efficiency. She also works to understand what role private rented sector landlords can play in helping vulnerable tenants and how to mitigate the impacts benefit cap changes will have on both tenants and landlords. Her peripatetic lifestyle affords the RLA special insight into the renting regimes in other countries to include Germany, Italy, and the US. Dorine holds a degree in Politics and Government with an emphasis in International Relations from the University of Puget Sound, Washington (USA).

1 Comment

  • These are anti-private landlord and anti-student measures. At the same time the council is constantly giving the go-ahead for Build to Rent institutions to keep knocking up huge buildings of little, over-priced rooms for students. This has been going on for several years in Cardiff and now there are reports that they cannot fill these buildings. Anyone could have seen this coming. I predict in the future these ‘luxury’ rooms will be used to house the bottom of the market – pushed out of housing by central and local Government policies which are hammering private landlords so much, that they have no alternative but to oust the poorer members of society from their homes as landlords cannot run a business making a constant loss. This is obviously how it will go – the shiny new buildings will start to look worn out and people want to leave in real homes, not rabbit warrens. How the latter have been feted whilst private landlords have been demonised is bordering on the criminally incompetent. Huge damage is being caused to the PRS when it should be supported in the excellent work it does.

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