After changing the planning requirements last November, making it harder to create new or extend existing HMOs thus further reducing the number of HMO"s in Southsea, Portsmouth City Council (PCC) have just completed a consultation exercise aimed at gaining approval to tighten the planning restrictions even further.
The PDPLA has responded pointing out that increasing minimum room sizes to 7.5 square metres will make hundreds of perfectly acceptable rooms unlettable and leave similar numbers of people either homeless or fighting for the smaller supply of remaining rooms with an obvious impact on rents in the area which will spill through to affect the whole PRS. We are also concerned that the new rules will leave many houses unsellable as they are sandwiched between HMO's when the sensible solution would be to allow them to convert to HMO's and our final concern is the widely held view that the city does not need HMO's as all the new student halls will replace them. There are 2 problems with this view - firstly, not everyone who lives in an HMO is a student and possibly more important, 80% of students cannot afford £200 a week to live in one of the new student halls - so we expect to see empty halls, bankruptcies amongst developers and firesale pricing of the new blocks. This could all be good for the city in the long term if there were an alternate use for these new blocks but unfortunately, they have been designed as sole use entities and converting them may not be an option.
Read on for more details of the consultation and PCC proposals and our full response.
The PCC proposals can be found here: https://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/ext/documents-external/pln-hmo-spd-proposals-feb-2018.pdf The changes from the original version are highlighted in blue and underlined.
PCC argue that these changes address loopholes in the planning system that landlords were taking advantage of. Many landlords would argue that there were no loopholes, just a system that prevented NIMBY"s ruling the roost.
More PCC documentation on HMO's can be found here: https://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/ext/development-and-planning/planning/planning-houses-in-multiple-occupation
The body of our response was:
We are glad to see that some effort has been made to bring amenity standards more into line with those of Private Sector Housing licensing requirements but still strongly object to the retention of the requirement for single bedrooms to be at least 7.5 sq m when PCC have approved and licensed rooms under 6.5 sq m and aim for 6.5 as a minimum. Likewise, the licensing standard for double rooms is 11 sq m and the planning requirement is 11.5 sq m. Housing standards understand that small rooms are not the problem, a property should be looked at as a whole. If all rooms are under say 7 sq m then there may be a problem but one small room with plenty of space elsewhere is not.
Where is the justification or evidence for the 7.5 sq m minimum?
We argue that the setting of standards should be left to the experts in Housing Standards and the policy of asking them to look at new applications and pass comment is enough. The current SPD proposal will generate more appeals.
The Deputy President of the Residential Property Tribunal, Martin Rodger QC has said "I see no reason why guidance should not identify a specific room size which will ordinarily be regarded as too small to provide adequate sleeping accommodation. Such guidance should not exclude the possibility that a room which falls short of the recommended size will nonetheless be capable of being taken into account as sleeping accommodation if other circumstances mean that, viewed as a whole, the house is reasonably suitable for the stated number."
It makes absolutely no sense to write off perfectly safe bedrooms at a time when homelessness is increasing and Local Authority obligations to assist single homeless people are increasing by law. The inability of a landlord to rent out a small room will often mean the whole house in unviable as an HMO or that the rent on the remaining rooms will have to be higher. Housing Options are desperate for affordable rooms for single people on low incomes or benefits. These people need these small rooms and those already in them are usually very happy, at no risk and paying less.
No impact assessment has been done on the impact of making it unnecessarily difficult to create new HMOs and this is at a time when some HMO landlords are selling up. As an example, one member is about to sell one and use the other for short term or holiday lets. How will their rooms be replaced with such a hostile attitude to the creation of new HMOs.
These minimums should be either justified or removed. If councilors would like to see what the offending rooms look like we can arrange viewings. Only yesterday a senior housing officer from PCC inspected an HMO with one bedroom measuring only 5.7 sq m. He commented "the house was great and in perfect condition." The room is cleverly laid out to optimise use of space and provide storage. The current occupants are happy. Many houses in Portsmouth have one bedroom under 7.5 sq m often where the property was upgraded to bring the bathroom upstairs. This has got to be a more satisfactory improvement than having a bathroom downstairs beyond the kitchen which would be acceptable to planning.
Looking at the details of the new changes
2.21d Applications will be required to include a full set of floor plans that include details of the bathroom sanitary ware and kitchen fitments and white goods; clearly identify whether rooms are intended to be single or double; and show the internal measurements for each room, including areas of reduced ceiling height. This will enable the application to assessed against the PCS23 requirement for new development to protect amenity and provide good standards of living environment for future residents and users of the development.
We question the need for such detail it the planning stage. It adds to the cost of an application unnecessarily. When Private Sector Housing are consulted on an application they spell out what will be required by way of amenities. They are the experts.
Consultation Question 13
Do you agree with the proposed changes to normally prevent three or more HMOs in a row?
No we do not agree
1.22b However, there is a particular concern in existing cases where residential properties (C3 use) are already 'sandwiched'. In those instances, and where, a community is not already 'imbalanced" by existing HMO uses permission will be granted for the 'sandwiched' C3 property to go to HMO use providing the new use would not lead to an imbalanced community in that area.
Not permitting a C3 property already 'sandwiched" between two HMOs to be used as an HMO is grossly unfair on the owner. If one believes this negative impact of proximity to HMOs then PCC are forcing a family to live in this condition. What is more the value of a C3 property is less than a C4 and a 'sandwiched" one worth even less when the owner comes to sell. We ask for this exception to be given to already sandwiched C3 properties regardless of the current density.
As an example, there is a terrace of 4 houses in River Street standing alone from all other housing. Three of these properties are HMO"s and the 4th is a private residence. As things stand, the old gent living in the 4th property is sandwiched and cannot sell at anything like market price, so he is trapped there. If the rules allowed this property to be converted to an HMO he could sell at a premium price, a new HMO would be created where no one would complain and everyone involved would be happy.
More generally where HMO density is low it would seem more sensible to allow 3 in a row as only one property has an HMO neighbour. New HMOs have to be created somewhere and 3 in a row seems more sensible than more equal distribution where more people have to have HMOs as neighbours.
Question 15 Do you agree with the proposed changes to prevent a non-HMO from being 'sandwiched' between two HMO properties? (Pages 9, 10, 11 and 25)
Yes. this seems fair to residents.
17. Do you agree with the proposed changes to allow, in the circumstances that a property is already 'sandwiched', for the property to be considered for an HMO use? (Pages 9, 10, 11 and 25)
No it should not be restricted even where the HMO density is high for the above reasons
We would like to take the opportunity to remind decision makers that new HMOs are required. Government policy affecting landlords means many are being sold out of HMO use. While there is a perception that they are only required by students and young single people, relationships breakdown and Portsmouth has to cater for a large transient workforce. If 3 locum doctors or contract workers on the new carriers want to share an ordinary house it has to have planning permission first and may need a licence. There are very few of these sitting empty and perhaps none with landlords prepared to shift from their student business model. By putting so many obstacles in the way of those wishing to meet this demand PCC may be pleasing the family residents and certain councillors but it must be hampering the economy of the city.
A fallacy that councilors need to understand is the belief that all of this new student housing being built around the town station will free up hundreds of houses in Southsea which are currently HMO"s. The issue here is that councilors have allowed a 'one size fits all" premium solution to be built in vast numbers even against the Universities advice. Yes, we need purpose built student accommodation but premium studio and 5/6 person communal solutions at upwards of £200 per week are only affordable for a small proportion of students. The rest will continue to spend half on rent as much living happily and comfortably in the community in HMO"s in Southsea.
Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.