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C3/C4 Confusion


Many landlords with HMOs (C4's in planning terms) applied to Portsmouth Planning dept 10 years ago to get C3/C4 status – meaning they could freely switch between family use (C3) and HMO (C4) without needing planning permission.

At the time, they were not told that the C3/C4 flexibility only lasted 10 years and none realised the implications at the end of the period – but based on comments from Portsmouth Planning this month, many long-term HMO (C4) landlords risk losing their C4 status at the end of the period with no chance of getting it back. 

Why C3/C4? 

Since Portsmouth introduced its Article 4 ruling on HMOs, landlords have been unable to move a tenancy from 'family use' to 'shared' without Planning Permission. The intent was to limit the spread of HMOs but the effects have been to increase the density of existing HMOs (if you can't create a new one, take an existing one and make it bigger), to push up rents in the city and to increase homelessness.

Today, a landlord with an empty house, approached by 3 nurses who want to share, could face a 12 month wait for Planning Permission before he or she gets approval to let the property to the 3 nurses. They don't all take that long and after 8 weeks you can take it to the Planning Inspector and ask him/her to approve based on the fact that PCC have failed to make a decision within the specified time (known as non-determination), but this is still far too slow for someone with the perfect home for 3 nurses when aforementioned nurses are standing in front of him/her.  To combat this, many landlords took advantage of the option in 2012 and 2013 to get 'C3/C4' status – which they believed meant they could freely let to families or shared tenants without the need for planning permission. We know of one agent who applied for C3/C4 status on all their properties in order to retain the ability to pick and choose whether to let to families or unrelated groups as they had always done in the past.

What they did not realise was that there were risks and restrictions associated with C3/C4 status.

 What Changed?

Firstly, no one was ever told that the C3/C4 status is only valid for 10 years and more importantly, it was not made clear what happens at the end of 10 years.

According to the PCC Planning Team when we asked about renewing a C3/C4 status at the end of the 10 years: "C3/C4 applications: there is no such thing as a 'renewal', it is an entirely new application judged on its own merits. The flexible C3/C4 consents last for ten years, i.e. the owner can change the use from one to the other without the need for a further planning permission in that period. At the end of the ten-year period, the lawful use is fixed on whatever use existed at that point. This is why we need to establish the final use, because then we see whether the new application is from C3 to C3/C4, or from C4 to C3/C4. If it is the former, we need to look afresh at the local balance of HMOs in the 50m radius. It is entirely conceivable that the 10% threshold has changed over the years and an application from C3 to C3/C4 may fall foul of the 10%. "

So, if your property has been an HMO since you acquired it in say, 1990 and you applied for C3/C4 in 2013 and obtained it, and you also obtained an HMO Licence in 2013 when you had to, but last year – because of Covid and the shortage of students, you decided to let it to a family for 9 months and your 10 years have now elapsed since you obtained dual use,  you will find you cannot revert to HMO (C4) without planning permission which you probably will not get as your property has always been in the relatively dense area of student HMOs so popular with that community. 

Our View 

It appears that officers are saying that it may have been given the flexibility to switch between C3 and C4 freely for the last decade, but underneath, it can only be in one type of use at any time. We will ask for a policy agreement that if a property with existing C3+C4 permitted use applies for it again it should be granted regardless of the current use. Without this assurance,  our advice is to leave C4 properties empty or to make sure that C3/C4 properties retain their C4 status by ensuring they are let as HMOs at the end of the 10 year term. This is just one more example of the local council worsening the local housing situation in its ill-thought crusade against HMOs and HMO landlords.  

How To Fix Planning
Portsmouth Student Housing Crisis

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