Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)

In Oxford in 2011, 8% of dwelling houses were “houses in multiple occupation (with 60% of such HMOs being occupied by students). The proportion in Headington is probably even higher because of the presence of Oxford Brookes University and the hospitals.

Oxford City Council: HMOs

Oxford City Council’s HMO regulations have undergone big changes in recent years:

New C4 category

Since 6 April 2010 there has been a new C4 category of housing in Oxford for “Houses in Multiple Occupation”. HMOs are private houses let by absentee landlords to groups of between three and six (normally unrelated) tenants. About 5,000 such houses already in existence in the city fell automatically into the new C4 category and did not need to apply for planning permission; but such permission has to be sought by anyone creating a new HMO.

Licensing of HMOs

In addition to requiring C4 planning permission, since 24 January 2011 larger HMOs with seven or more tenants have required a licence from the city council, and this requirement was extended to smaller HMOs with three or more tenants from 30 January 2012.

Article 4 Direction

A new local planning order known as an “article 4 direction” came into force on 24 February 2012. This gave the city council planning controls over all new HMOs, and planning permission for C3 dwelling houses to become C4 HMOs will not be granted in all circumstances. Preferred Option A of its its Sites and Housing Development Plan Document stated that:

any proposal to create a new HMO, including the change of use of any dwelling to an HMO, will only be permitted where the proportion of properties within 100 metres of street length either side of the property does not exceed 20%….

The policy would state that the Council will seek to prevent any HMO that has formerly been a single household dwelling from being converted to smaller self-contained units, unless the proposal complies with the Balance of Dwellings SPD.


(1) City Council v. Government

The Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (No 2) (England) Order 2010 (2010 No. 2134) amended the new law relating to HMOs so that change of use from Class C3 (dwelling houses) to Class C4 (houses in multiple occupation) reverts to being permitted development. This means that Oxford city council would have to use existing powers in the form of article 4 directions to require planning applications in their area.

Oxford, Milton Keynes, and Newcastle City Council sought a judicial review of this decision. The High Court Action started on 31 March 2011 but the Judge ruled on 11 April 2011 that the consultation process was not unfair.

(2) Landlords v. City Council

Housing & Planning Minister John Healey announced in Oxford Town Hall on 26 January 2010 that existing legislation would be amended so that local authorities could introduce compulsory licensing schemes for landlords of student houses from April 2010.

Oxford City Council was the first local authority to attempt to introduce such licensing. This was due to start on 25 October 2010, but following a threat by group of landlords to challenge these powers in a judicial review, the city council postponed the licensing dates to 24 January 2011 for larger HMOs with seven or more tenants, and 30 January 2012 for all the rest. The consultation on this proposal closed on 18 March 2011.

© Stephanie Jenkins


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