Hundreds of students in a university city fear they may lose their homes as the council investigates 70 houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) that are running without planning permission.
York City Council is ready to issue enforcement notices for the planning breaches, which could mean the students will need to find alternative homes.
As each HMO houses six or more students, the crackdown could affect around 350 students.
The university has pledged to help find alternative accommodation for any students forced to move out.
York has operated an article 4 planning direction for small HMOs since April 2012, which are shared houses for three to five unrelated tenants.
The direction deems any small HMOs already running at the start of the direction are deemed to have planning permission unless they switch to a family home or single let and back to an HMO, when they would need to apply to the council.
However the planning crackdown relates to large HMOs, for six or more unrelated tenants, which have needed planning permission since 2008.
Not only do these homes breach planning rules, but they are also likely to flout fire and safety rules and lack an HMO license from the council.
The owners will have to apply for planning permission to reopen – but if more than 10% of the homes in the neighbourhood are already HMOs, permission is unlikely to be granted.
The council have uncovered the illegal homes by going door-to-door and asking students and neighbours about the history of the homes and when they were converted to HMOs.
University deputy vice chancellor Jane Grenville has guaranteed housing for students who are affected by the council’s actions before the end of the academic year.
“It’s important that no one worries at this stage. We’re working hard to ensure that both current tenants and students signing new contracts after February are protected. If any students have any concerns at all, please get in touch with me,” she said.