The change of use of standard residential properties to HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) is something we handle frequently here at Planning Direct. If you’re looking to convert your house(s) or flat(s) to one or more HMOs, this page provides some helpful planning advice.
Want to find out more about other popular changes of use? Follow the links below.
Apply for planning permission or a lawful development certificate
In the simplest of terms, you do not always need to apply for planning permission if you’re looking to convert a standard residential property (use class C3)* to a HMO**.
However, we always recommend that you apply for a lawful development certificate even if planning permission is not required.
Therefore, depending on the specifics of your site and change of use, either a change of use application will be required or a lawful development certificate application will be advisable. Follow the links below for some general information about these application types.
*What is a class C3 residential property?
Standard houses and flats belong to use class C3. These are houses and flats occupied by a single household. A single household is normally a family but it can include up to 2 lodgers.
**What is a HMO?
A HMO is a House in Multiple Occupation. It’s a property rented out by at least 3 people who are not from one household but who share certain living facilities such as a bathroom and kitchen.
Depending on the number of occupants, a HMO is either use class C4 or “sui generis”. If the HMO is occupied by 3 – 6 people, it’s C4. If the HMO has 7 or more occupants, it’s “sui generis”.
When should I submit a lawful development certificate application?
Permitted development rights
The reason an application for planning permission is not always required for a change of use from residential (class C3) to HMO (class C4 or sui generis) is because it is sometimes covered by permitted development rights.
Not sure about permitted development rights? Follow the link below to find out more about them, including what they are, where to find them and what sites have them.
Change of use permitted development rights
Change of use permitted development rights provide specific changes of use with formal planning permission. If your change of use is covered by a permitted development right, you don’t need to seek planning permission for it again.
However, we still strongly recommend you apply for a lawful development certificate before you start conversion works. A lawful development certificate provides formal confirmation from your local council that your change of use is definitely covered by a permitted development right and therefore lawful. This means you can proceed with your HMO conversion safe in the knowledge that you will not later be required to put it all back.
A lawful development certificate is always advisable if you are thinking about exercising a permitted development right. This is because:
- Lawful development certificate applications are relatively cheap and quick
- Permitted development rules and restrictions are often complicated or open to interpretation, meaning there is a lot of room for error. Even local councils frequently get them wrong!
- Permitted development rights can be removed or restricted from individual buildings or wider areas in a range of ways and it is not always easy to find out
- If you carry out a change of use that you thought was permitted development and it turns out you were wrong, the penalties can be severe. There’s a very good chance you’ll be required to put the property back to its former condition at your own expense. If enforcement action is taken, you could ultimately face criminal prosecution and an unlimited fine.
Follow the links below to find out more about change of use permitted development rights and lawful development certificates.
What residential to HMO changes of use are covered by permitted development rights?
The change of use of any C3 residential building to a C4 HMO* is covered by a permitted development right. The permitted development right is Class L and it also allows for C4 HMOs to be converted to C3 use.
*that’s a HMO occupied by no more than 6 people.
If you want to create a larger HMO (7 or more occupants), you’ll need to apply for planning permission instead.
You must comply with all rules and restrictions
All permitted development rights are subject to specific rules and restrictions. You must ensure your change of use complies with all relevant rules and restrictions. If it doesn’t, it’s not permitted development and you’ll need to apply for planning permission instead.
Rules and restrictions for Class L
Class L is subject to only 2 restrictions. Just 1 of these applies to the conversion of a C3 building to a C4 HMO. The restriction is this:
You cannot convert a C3 building occupied by a single household to more than a single C4 unit.
If your change of use would comply with this restriction, it’s very likely to be permitted development. For certainty, we recommend that you apply for a lawful development certificate before you start works.
If your change of use wouldn’t comply with the class L restriction or your property has had this permitted development right removed, you’ll need to apply for planning permission instead.
You may also need to apply for other relevant HMO licences from your local council that are unrelated to planning.
When should I submit a change of use application?
A change of use application is a type of application for planning permission.
If your site doesn’t have permitted development rights or your change of use from residential to HMO doesn’t comply with all the permitted development rules, you’ll need to apply for planning permission. This will be the case, for example, if you’re seeking to create a larger HMO (7 occupants or more) or to convert a single home to multiple HMOs.
It’s also worth being aware that local councils have wide powers to restrict permitted development rights in their area. The Class L right to convert residential properties to HMOs is amongst the most commonly restricted rights.
To apply for planning permission, you’ll need to submit a change of use planning application to your Local Planning Authority (this is normally your local council).
Your council will then assess your planning application and either approve or refuse it.
Click the link below to find out more about change of use planning applications, including what they are and what the different use classes include.
If you’re looking for some general information about planning applications – including what you need to submit, what the fees are and how long they take – follow the link below.
You may also need to apply for other relevant HMO licences from your local council that are unrelated to planning.
How do I improve the chances of my change of use planning application being approved?
When they assess your planning application, your council has to take account of their local planning policies and any other material planning considerations.
Material planning considerations
Material planning considerations are matters in addition to planning policies that your council can and should take into account when they assess planning applications. In fact, there is a rule in planning that allows your council to approve development in conflict with their planning policies if they are satisfied that material planning considerations support this. Material planning considerations include things like road safety, previous planning decisions, privacy and nature conservation. Click the button below to find out more about material planning considerations.
Local planning policies
Although the content of local planning policies will vary, there are certain key planning issues that most – if not all – councils in England and Wales will take into account when they consider an application for the change of use of a residential property to one or more HMOs. These are discussed below.
If your change of use is acceptable in relation to these key issues, it’s very likely that it would comply with local planning policies. However, you should always check your local planning policies to make sure.
If you instruct Planning Direct to submit your change of use planning application, we’ll conduct this research on your behalf.
Key planning issues
What are the key planning issues?
Local planning policies will vary and it is important that your planning application is designed to meet the policies in force in your local area.
No matter where your residential property is located, however, your local council will almost certainly take the following key planning issues into account when considering its change of use to a HMO:
Standard of accommodation
Your council will need to be satisfied that the property would provide an acceptable standard of accommodation to its residents.
There are certain standards that all new HMOs in England are expected to meet. For example, a bedroom for 1 occupant aged 10 or over must be at least 6.51 square metres*.
*please be aware that although we make every effort to keep our website up-to-date, HMO standards do change occasionally and you should always check the standards in force at the time of making your application.
The LPA will likely also have local design policies concerning (for example) the size and layout of shared facilities, gardens, bin storage etc.
Although HMOs are rarely held to the same high standards as normal houses (C3)**, they must still be fit for purpose and support their residents to live happy and healthy lives.
**For example, because HMOs aren’t normally occupied by families, councils will often allow smaller gardens as there is a lesser requirement for outdoor play space.
Effect on character and appearance
“Character and appearance” is the way a place looks, functions and feels.
- its buildings – for example, what is their size and style?
- its layout – for example, are buildings close together or far apart? And where do cars park?
- its uses – for example, is it mainly residential, commercial or a mix?
- its type and amount of activity – for example, is it a busy town centre or a quiet village street?
When it comes to a change of use from commercial (class E) to residential (class C3), your council will mainly be concerned about:
The effect of physical changes, especially external
Physical changes include things like new windows and partition walls. Your council will ask:
- are physical changes designed and constructed to a high quality?
- are they “in keeping” with the building and surrounding area? For example, do any new windows follow the style, position and materials of the building’s existing windows? The greater the building’s architectural merit, the less likely that changes will be supported.
The effect of the site’s use as a HMO
It is not uncommon to see planning permission refused for this type of change of use because the council considers the property’s occupation as a HMO would harm local character. Councils typically ask whether the building’s use as a HMO would:
- lead to a substantial increase in on-street parking that detracts from the visual qualities of the street?
- lead to a significant increase in the overall occupation of the site that is likely to disturb neighbours?
- lead to the loss of a family home in an area where the council is keen to retain family housing, for example because there is already a severe lack of family homes?
The impact of a HMO on local character is far more likely to be acceptable in densely-built and sustainable areas such as town centres with good public transport links.
For example, would it lead to a significant increase in the site’s occupancy that is likely to disturb families in neighbouring houses? Would it lead to a substantial increase in on-street parking that detracts from the visual qualities of the street? Would it lead to the loss of a family-sized home in an area where the LPA is keen to retain family housing, for example because there is already a severe lack of housing suitable for families? The impact of a HMO is far more likely to be acceptable in densely-built and “highly sustainable” areas, e.g. town centres with very good public transport links.
Effect on parking and roads
Your council will consider whether there is enough parking available for the new residents of the HMO.
This could be private parking or shared/public car parking.
All that matters is that there are enough parking spaces to meet the parking needs of the new residents as well as the needs of existing businesses and residents in the area.
If your change of use would significantly increase the parking requirements of the site – for example, it is a 3-bed house but you are seeking to convert it to multiple HMOs – you will need to consider parking very carefully, from the earliest design stages.
Local parking standards
Some councils have detailed parking standards that tell you the minimum number of parking spaces different sites and buildings (such as C3 houses/flats and HMOs) should have available. These are often calculated based on the amount of bedrooms or residents.
In most cases, your council will expect you to comply with their minimum parking standards. However, exceptions are frequently made in the following circumstances:
- The site is in a town centre or other urban location with lots of public transport, walking and cycling routes
- The existing parking situation would not be made worse. For example, if the existing house or flat has 2 spaces less than the standard and would still have 2 spaces less than the standard if its use was changed to a HMO.
In terms of the effect on roads, your council will need to be satisfied that the change of use will not cause harm to their safety or the way they function. They will likely consider the following matters:
- Will there be a significant increase in traffic?
- Will there be a significant increase in on-road parking (and is the road suitable for that)?
- Will there be an increased risk of conflict between drivers and pedestrians?
Effect on residential amenities
Your council will need to be satisfied the use of the building as a HMO wouldn’t cause unacceptable harm to nearby residential properties. In areas dominated by family homes, your council is likely to pay even closer attention to this. In particular, councils are likely to ask:
- Is the property’s use as a HMO likely to give rise to antisocial behaviour or other disturbance such as noise or littering?
If your change of use requires physical changes to the property, the effect of these changes on neighbours and nearby residents will also be considered. For example, new windows should not cause a significant loss of privacy to existing homes.
Effect on heritage assets
If the change of use has the potential to affect a heritage asset*, your council is legally required to take this into consideration.
*When would my change of use have the potential to affect a heritage asset?
This is likely to be the case if:
- the building is listed (Grade I – II) or locally listed
- the building is close to one or more listed buildings
- the building is in or adjacent to a conservation area.
In these circumstances, permission for your change of use will normally only be granted if its effect on heritage assets is beneficial or neutral.
Your application must include a heritage impact assessment (HIA)
If your change of use has the potential to affect a heritage asset then your planning application must include a heritage impact assessment. A heritage impact assessment explains the significance of the affected heritage asset(s) and describes the likely impact of the change of use on this significance.
Heritage impact assessments should be proportionate to the scale and impact of a development. If your change of use is straightforward, it’s likely you’ll only need a basic heritage impact assessment. Click the button below to find out more.
What do I need to submit with my change of use application?
Your planning application for the change of use of a residential property (class C3) to a HMO (class C4 or sui generis) should normally include:
- Application form
- Planning statement
- Planning drawings:
- Site location plan
- Block plan
- Existing and proposed floorplans
- Existing and proposed elevations.
Planning Direct can provide all of these documents either as part of our start-to-finish planning service or as one-off products. Click the links below to find out more.
Other requirements will vary depending on the site and its location, the type and amount of physical changes (if any), who your local council is and what their planning policies are. To help you, we’ve listed below some of the most commonly requested documents and explained when these are likely to be needed.
Heritage impact assessment
If the change of use has the potential to affect a heritage asset (more on this above), it’s likely your council will require a heritage impact assessment. Click the link below to find out all about Planning Direct’s competitively priced heritage impact assessments.
If the building is in an area with lots of traffic or insufficient parking, for example, your council may request a transport statement. A transport statement is also likely to be required if the change of use would significantly increase vehicle movements to and from the site. Click the link below to find out more about Planning Direct’s travel plans and transport statements.
How can Planning Direct assist with my change of use application?
Start-to-finish planning service
Planning Direct can assist you with all aspects of your change of use application. Our start-to-finish planning service includes the following:
- design guidance
- planning drawings
- planning statement
- case management*.
*this means we will submit the planning application on your behalf and then act as your agent throughout the process, liaising with your council and any other parties until a decision is reached.
Follow the links below to find out more about these individual planning services.
As part of our start-to-finish planning service, we’ll also identify whether there is a need for additional documents such as a transport statement. If additional documents are required, we can either produce them in-house or commission them on your behalf. We’ll always discuss and agree this with you beforehand.
Follow the link below to find out more about how our external commissions work.
One-off planning services and products
However, not all of our clients require a start-to-finish service. For example, some already have drawings and others simply require a supporting statement* for an application that is already in progress.
*such as a planning statement, heritage impact assessment or transport statement.
For this reason, we offer all of our planning services as one-off products.
Contact us today to let us know exactly what you need and we’ll respond with a bespoke, no-obligation quotation. Our aim is to respond to all new enquiries within 1 working day and we rarely fail to achieve that!
How much will my change of use application cost?
There are two main expenses you’ll need to take into account. These are:
- The cost to prepare and submit the planning application
- The application fee which is payable to your local council.
Currently, the application fee for the change of use of a residential property (class C3) to a HMO (class C4 or sui generis) in England is £462* per new residential unit. A small processing fee is added on top of this.
Applications for lawful development certificates are priced at half the normal planning fee so £231 per unit*.
*please be aware that although we make every effort to keep our website up-to-date, application fees do change occasionally. You should always check the fees in place at the time of making your application.
For the latest planning application fees, go to the government’s Planning Portal:
Planning Direct’s fees for a start-to-finish change of use planning service start from £1195. Our fees for a lawful development certificate application are even less.
Please be aware that in certain circumstances your local council may request additional reports** which will attract additional fees.
**such as a heritage impact assessment, noise impact assessment or transport statement.
How can I keep costs down?
Generally speaking, the fewer physical changes you need to make to the building, the cheaper the planning application.
You’re also entitled to prepare and submit your own planning applications and there is no obligation to employ a planning consultant. However, a good planning consultant can save you time and money in the long run. This is because there are many pitfalls in planning (technical and otherwise) that the average home or business owner cannot help but stumble into. For example, planning drawings must be drawn to particular scales and include specific features. If it takes you multiple attempts to get this right, you’re likely to spend more money overall.
At Planning Direct, our aim is always to secure our clients the best possible outcome at the lowest possible price. Contact us today to find out more about how we work and how we can help you to secure a commercial to residential change of use.