City Plan responds to public calls for tighter HMO controls

Tougher tests for the management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) have been set out in the City Plan Part 2, which will guide development in the city to 2030.

The plan, agreed at the first ‘virtual’ council meeting on 23 April, includes an additional policy to enable better management of HMOs through the planning system following concerns from residents about the numbers and concentration of HMOs in some areas of the city.

It builds on measures already in place through City Plan Part One which states that HMO development will not be permitted where more than 10% of dwellings within a radius of 50 metres of the application site are already in HMO use.

City Plan Part 2 introduces additional criteria to better manage concentrations of HMOs both in the immediate vicinity of an application site by preventing continuous frontages of three or more HMOs and across the wider neighbourhood area.

Once City Plan Part Two is adopted, these requirements will apply citywide due to the extended ‘Article 4 Direction’ which comes into force from 3 June.

This means that new HMO development will require planning permission anywhere in the city; currently this is only required within the five wards along Lewes Road.

Councillor Tracey Hill, chair of the city’s planning committee, said: “The new policies and extended Article 4 Direction will be some of the toughest approaches to HMO development in the country. 

“We know HMOs provide essential low-cost accommodation for people living and working in a city where rents are high. Our policies are not designed to stop all HMO conversions, but to limit over-concentration in a particular area.

"They’re designed to prevent a family home becoming “sandwiched” between two HMOs, and will also look at the number of HMOs in a broader area as well as the immediate vicinity. This will help maintain balanced and sustainable communities. We will also be better able to ensure decent standards for those living in HMOs.”

There are around 5,000 licensed HMOs in the city, a reflection of high housing costs and availability. Over the years the city’s housing market has responded to the demand through increasing numbers of family homes being converted to HMOs.

Some HMOs house students but many young professionals and people on low incomes also live in them.

In fact a recent study showed that the demand for student accommodation in HMOs is declining, which is likely to free up more housing for the wider market, in particular for families.

The Student Accommodation Study which forms one of the background documents of the City Plan Part 2 shows that at least 3,000 fewer university students would need accommodation in the private rented sector over the next few years. This is due to more purpose-built student housing coming on stream and universities forecasting no significant further increases in student numbers.

To support this change we have ensured the policy in the City Plan enables owners and landlords to convert their properties back to family homes when they are no longer needed as HMOs.

Improving the living standards in HMOs

Where additional bedrooms are created in both new build HMOs and conversions of existing buildings, they will be expected to meet the internal space standards set out in City Plan Part 2.

Our policy states that appropriately sized, proportioned and equipped communal areas, bathroom and cooking facilities should be provided. It also directs property owners to ensure communal living space is within the main structure of the building and not in a conservatory.

In a small, four person HMO for example the minimum size of usable communal living space should be 16 square metres. 

Large HMOs will be expected to provide at least two bathrooms with showering facilities.

HMO proposals are also required to provide useable private outdoor amenity space appropriate to the scale and character of the development.

What is a HMO?

A House in Multiple Occupation, commonly known as a HMO, is a property occupied by at least three people who are not from one ‘household’ (e.g. a family) but share facilities such as a bathroom and kitchen. 

Examples include bedsits, shared houses, lodgings, accommodation for employees and refuges.

There are approximately 5,000 licensed HMOs in Brighton & Hove [Source: City Plan Part 2] but many HMOs do not house students – the cost and shortage of housing in the city means that many young professionals and people on low incomes also live in HMOs.

More information

There will be a further opportunity to comment on the City Plan Part 2. The council will consider the best time to carry out public consultation after the coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions are lifted.

View our HMO map to see where they are located in the city.

Current planning rules for HMOs

Find out more about how HMOs are licensed

Read the Student Accommodation Housing Study

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