Property lawyers are urging student landlords to choke council planning departments with applications in protest against tightening up planning and licensing controls for shared homes.
A loophole in planning law lets landlords make planning applications at no cost – but council officers are duty bound to produce a report on every application that involves hours of work and administration.
The suggestion comes from solicitors Painsmith, a leading landlord and tenant law firm.
The firm has represented landlords and letting agents in Oxford in lobbying against the council taking on extra planning powers to micromanage student shared homes – termed houses in multiple occupation or HMOs - in the city.
“It should also be noted that Oxford is not permitted to charge a planning application fee for applications made as a result of an Article 4 Direction and one possible way of frustrating the proposals is simply for a large number of landlords to make applications thereby tying up resources,” says the latest Painsmith blog on the topic.
Painsmith also suggests – inline with other planning and legal experts – that article 4 declarations to take on planning powers are probably irrelevant because switching the use of a property from a home to a shared house is not a material change of use that requires planning consent.
The argument is if a large family shares a home, has several vehicles and even if one or more of the occupants is a lodger, this makes the planning use no different from three or four students sharing a house.
“Oxford is stating that they have a shortage of housing and a high demand for HMO accommodation. This might appear to be inconsistent with a policy of increased planning control but Oxford justify the policy by stating that there is a shortage in all types of accommodation and that wholesale conversion to HMOs in all areas means that other areas are not satisfied,” says the blog.
“Planning Policy Statement 3 requires local authorities to adopt planning policies that provide sufficient living accommodation for all types of use. It will be for Oxford to show that their new restrictions on HMO accommodation do not violate this policy statement.”
Oxford City Council licences about 5,000 HMOs and is at the forefront of council action to enforce shared house laws with stricter licensing and planning permission.