1) Cardiff Council Special Planning Guidance
The summary below is written by John Pinn of Quinn and Co who sometimes attends the Forum. Thank you, John, for writing a comprehensive summary.
Cardiff Council are currently consulting on the introduction of Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) to restrict the number of HMO’s and flat conversions in Cardiff. If successful, it will effectively limit the creation of seven-or-more bedroom HMO’s and restrict the subdivision of houses into apartments.
The consultation period is due to end on 25th April 2014 and is likely to be passed through to councillors in more or less in its current form, which will mean the following changes to HMO housing*:
- If floors are lowered, it must not affect the external appearance of the property.
- New floors must not cut across existing window openings.
- Subdivision of rooms will not be acceptable unless rooms are excessively large.
- A living room with just roof-lights will not be acceptable.
- A minimum of 25m² amenity space must be provided, excluding bin stores.
- Covered cycle storage must be provided.
- Bedrooms in attic space must have a minimum floor to ceiling height of 2m of 75% of the measureable floor area.
*Please note that the proposed guidance will only apply to properties classed as HMO’s in planning use terms, which is different to HMO licensing’s definition of a HMO (3 or more tenants). Please read on.
Currently, a property with six-or-less tenants falls into the standard C3 planning classification used for normal residential dwellings. If a landlord intends to change this and begin housing seven-or-more tenants, the property ‘may’ fall outside of the C3 classification and be considered a ‘sui generis HMO’, which would mean a change of use application approved by the local authority is required.
However, Cardiff Council are intending to ignore the ‘may’ part of the above sentence and will insist that every property changing from six-or-less tenants to seven-or-more will be a ‘sui generis HMO’ and require a change of use application. Then, when the application is submitted, they are likely find reason to fail it based on one or more of the seven new conditions listed further above, thereby limiting the creation of seven-or-more bedroom properties in Cardiff.
While the definition of what is a sui generis HMO and what isn’t is complex, it is set in case law that a change of use application may not be required where the group of tenants live together as a single household (like a family would), and there are a set of nine factors which help decide this. Cardiff Council are trying to ignore this case law by not fully explaining what a single household can be defined as.
Additionally, the Council are only permitted to introduce new Supplementary Planning Guidance to clarify or reinforce their existing policies, in which there is no mention of HMO’s and their sui generis classification. Therefore, we don’t believe they have the power to bring this new policy – which is poorly drafted and onerous – into force.
However, if it is introduced, we have been advised that it will be applied retrospectively, meaning properties currently housing seven-or-more tenants with no change of use policy will be targeted.
As well as the impact on HMO’s, flats are also set to be affected, with the proposed regulations meaning flats must be at least 30m², with no provision for studios or bedsits. Additionally, flats within the roof space will not be allowed, nor will rear access to flats.
With landlord and agent licensing also due to come into force in the near future, as well as proposed HMO licensing for the Plasnewydd ward (more information on both to follow), investors may well opt to spend their money in cities with less red tape in the future.
If you’d like your say on the proposed changes, we’re happy to listen to them and pass them onto Cardiff Council. Please make contact with John Pinn via firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you may e-mail the Council directly on LDP@cardiff.gov.uk.
2) Cardiff Council Additional Licensing Consultation for Plasnewydd
Some of you are aware we have had a working group with officers and councillors as in the Cardiff Corporate Plan it states to roll out (or explore rolling out) the additional licensing area to Plasnewydd and Gabalfa. At these meetings we were informed of statistics on the success of Cathays and were presented with the findings of a stock condition survey carried out in Cathays and Gabalfa. This was to have been presented at the last Cardiff Landlord Forum meeting by Will Lane, the new Head of Housing Enforcement, but he had a family emergency and could not attend. It had been decided that the proposal to extend additional licensing in Gabalfa was not going to be progressed. We were supposed to have another meeting to go through the findings and discuss a way forward, possibly with an alternative approach to Plasnewydd.
Disappointingly they released the 6 week consultation without even informing the Forum or myself independently. This may have been an oversight with a change of cabinet, but the timing just before Easter seems convenient. We have also been trying to meet with Plasnewydd Councillors, but have been informed that we should attend their weekly surgery instead– another disappointing response.
Ultimately this is a tax on good landlords as it has been seen that many landlords in the Cathays area have only just been asked to pay for their license, which will last 5 years. Whilst we completely support the efforts of Cardiff Council and their enforcement officers to raise standards in the private rented sector we do not feel that this is the right approach, especially when combined with the individual licensing of landlords, as the Housing (Wales) Bill sets out to do. This is all overkill and targets the wrong landlords.
A survey has been released. We would urge you all to fill it in, and also to give to your tenants to fill in that have an understanding of the private rented sector. I have also attached a map of the area they are proposing to license. The questions, as you will see, are very leading. We will be raising this point with Cardiff Council.
We have requested a meeting with Bob Derbyshire who is the new Cabinet Member of Environment who has released this consultation.
We urge you to act on this. We will be putting together a combined response but as was seen last time, a carbon copy letter doesn’t work as effectively as individual letters. We ask that you write to both Bob Derbyshire and the Plasnewydd Councillors. (If you could copy me in I can see the response level and “borrow” your good points!)
The link to the consultation survey can be found here:
23 Janet Street
Mob: 07581 421273
The consultation closes on the 22nd of May, and so responses should be in by then. At a cost of £560-770 plus the cost of registering and licensing, it is not a small amount to consider.
3) Welsh Agent and Landlord Licensing Scheme (WALLS)
For those that are regular attendees to the Forum, you will be aware of the Welsh Government’s intention to register all landlords and properties in Wales and licence all landlords that own properties in Wales. This will require training and regular CPD to maintain the licence. Whilst the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has been lobbying hard against this, unfortunately Plaid Cymru and Lib Dems did an about turn on their views in January and backed the government on their proposals when they had previously opposed it.
More unnervingly, there are now proposals to amend the Bill as it stands to not only include landlord standards but property standards as part of the licensing conditions. The costings have also not been publicly released, neither have the Code of Practice nor the enforcement proposals- to ensure not just the good landlords get caught by this legislation as happens with most other new legislation.
The RLA is working hard to ensure that the interests of the good landlords of Wales are well represented in each of the aforementioned matters, but to do so effectively we need a mandate from the landlords of Wales. Therefore I am urging that those who have an interest in holding back the reigns of the red tape look into becoming a member of the RLA. Whether you own one or 100 properties, each landlord’s voice counts and allows us to get more views and represent more landlords to Welsh Government and local authorities. If you don’t wish to join the RLA, I would recommend you look into joining other landlord representative bodies, but just make sure they actually carry out representation and aren’t just a membership service. For full declaration I do not get a share of the profits of the RLA. I am paid a retainer for the work I do for them, so the number of members does not change my remuneration. The work I carry out on behalf of the Cardiff Landlord Forum is done out of my own time and is entirely a voluntary role.
We will be putting more news up on the RLA web-site over the next few days. http://www.rla.org.uk/wales/
We will be sending out a letter to submit to the planning consultation in the next 48 hours. This will have been looked at by planning consultants and possibly a planning barrister. We urge you to send a copy or sign up to supporting this document.
We will then be looking at our response to the additional licensing consultation.