2 March 2017

New licensing could cut impact of shared and student homes

Tighter planning rules are unlikely to provide an answer to anti-social behaviour from shared houses, according to a new council report.

Instead, extending council licensing to cover ALL rented properties in the city, alongside continued enforcement of existing planning rules could be more effective, say officials.

The council is responding to a petition from residents calling for more stringent powers to limit the impact of student homes.  All houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) need planning permission in five council wards, bordering Lewes Road.  New planning rules introduced in April 2013 say consent will be refused if 10 per cent of homes within a 50m radius are already HMOs. The petition wanted this changed to 150m and five per cent.

In response, the council says the 10 per cent policy is one of the most stringent in the country.  It has led to a significant number of applications in the highest-concentration areas being refused and is likely to be deterring landlords from making applications. 

However there are many complaints about unauthorised HMOs – the planning department is currently investigating 106 possible cases.

Since the new rules were introduced, 270 investigations have been launched, resulting in 24 enforcement notices, requiring the HMO to stop operating. 

Residents also called for the area where planning permission for HMOs is required to be extended.  This will be considered as part of work to produce the council’s planning blueprint - City Plan Part Two. 

It is felt licensing changes could also be effective.  Licensing is separate from planning permission and ensures that HMOs meet appropriate standards.  The petition calls for an increase in the area where an HMO licence is needed and better alignment of the two functions.  It asked the council to see what measures other university towns have used to tackle the issue.

A council report last year found concentrations of private rented housing are linked to anti-social behaviour and poor quality accommodation.  In March the council’s housing and new homes committee will consider a report on extending licensing to ALL private rented homes across the city, regardless of size.  The report is due to consider fees that might be charged, prior to a programme of public consultation.  Currently small HMOs typically used as student homes need a licence in 12 council wards.  Larger HMOs need a licence all over the city.

Committee chair Cllr Alan Robins said:  “We’re already using the planning powers the government makes available.  The government is not likely to allow us to extend them.  In the areas where there are the highest concentrations of student homes, our intervention is resulting in fewer HMOs being set up. But it will not be possible within the law to stop it entirely. Extending licensing could help and we’re pursuing that.  Meanwhile our planning policy encourages purpose-built halls of residence, built in appropriate places.

"We are also working with both universities to ensure residents’ concerns are dealt with as effectively as possible under the rules.  And extra resources were agreed in the council budget to enforce HMO planning regulations.”

A report on the issue goes before councillors on the economic development and culture committee on 9 March.