A Practical Guide To The New HMO Planning Class In Wales

From 25 February 2016, a new House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) class will be added to the use classes for planning permission purposes, which will seriously affect landlords who wish to change to HMOs in Wales.

What are use classes?

Under the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, several classes of use are defined for which planning permission needs to be obtained. 

If a use is not mentioned in the order, they are known as a ’Sui Generis’ use. Examples are theatres, car showrooms and filling stations. A Sui Generis use still requires planning permission but is likely to be more specific than the generally more broad definitions contained in specific use classes. 

A standard dwelling in Wales was known as a “class C3 Dwellinghouse” for up to six people occupying a single household only. 

Arguably, some HMOs may need planning permission before the change because they won’t be occupied as a single household or may have more than seven people. 

However, it was little enforced, and for the planning of this type to be needed (before change), there would need to be “… the making of any material change in the use of any buildings or other land …”. The question of how a “material” changes in use is a difficult one.

The new classes

From 25 February 2015, Class C3 was slightly amended, and a new class C4 was introduced. This brings the classes into line with England, where C3 was changed, and C4 has existed for some years. 

Class C3 in Wales is amended to say:

Class C3. Dwellinghouses Use as a dwellinghouse (whether or not as a sole or main residence) by— 

(a) a single person or by people to be regarded as forming a single household; 

(b) not more than six residents living together as a single household where care is provided for residents; or 

(c) not more than six residents living together as a single household where no care is provided to residents (other than a use within class C4). 

Interpretation of Class C3 For the purposes of Class C3

(a) “single household” is to be construed in accordance with section 258 of the Housing Act 2004(2)

The new class C4 introduced says:

Class C4. Houses in multiple occupation 

Use of a dwellinghouse by not more than six residents as a house in multiple occupation. 

Interpretation of Class C4 

For the purposes of Class C4 a “house in multiple occupation” does not include a converted block of flats to which section 257 of the Housing Act 2004 applies but otherwise has the same meaning as in section 254 of the Housing Act 2004.

This has the effect that from 25 February 2015, any new change of use from a single household letting to a house in multiple occupation with three or more unrelated sharers would first need planning permission. 

The change also affects taking three or more lodgers as they too would make a property an HMO and require planning permission.

Permitted Development

Also, from 25 February 2015, it is permitted development (planning permission not necessary) to change the use from a C4 class (HMO) to a single household letting (C3)

It is not permitted to go back again, though, without planning permission first being sought.

Existing HMOs

As discussed earlier, it may well have been the case that some HMOs ought to have obtained planning permission before the change regardless. In which case, the change strengthens the requirement. 

However, as a general rule, if there is an existing HMO on the 25 February, there is no “change in use” occurring (because it’s already being used for that purpose). However, as we say, it all depends on whether that use was lawful in the first place under the previous rules. 

A landlord wishing to be sure can apply for a “certificate of lawful use” where an established use has been used for some time.

View Related Handbook Page

Planning Control

Planning approval is essentially about controlling land use and is required to alter, extend or change existing properties, or make changes

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO)

Special requirements apply to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), which place special responsibilities on landlords and agents.