Council clamps down on unregulated family home conversions into HMOs and bedsits

27 Nov 2023

Sutton Council has published plans to ensure that in future all new Houses for Multiple Occupation (HMOs) require planning permission before being converted from single family homes.

At the next meeting of the Housing, Economy & Business Committee, councillors will discuss proposals to withdraw existing ‘permitted development’ rights across the whole borough for larger houses to become small HMOs - this is called an Article 4 Direction. The existing permitted development rights were introduced by the Government in 2015.

‘Permitted development’ rights are set at a national level by the Government and allow the improvement and extension of homes without the need to apply for planning permission. This includes houses being converted into Houses in Multiple Occupation without the consent of the local council as the planning authority. 

Residents in Sutton have been increasingly concerned about the rising number of small HMOs in Sutton given that the Council and residents do not have a say on the changes and the Council cannot consider each scheme on its merits. The Council therefore agreed in March 2023 to carry out further work on the need for an Article 4 Direction for smaller Houses of Multiple Occupation and to report back to councillors at the earliest opportunity.

Councillor David Bartolucci, Chair of Sutton Council’s Housing, Economy & Business Committee, said:
“To support the Council’s work on ensuring quality and affordable housing for our residents, councillors are now being asked to agree steps to ensure that any conversion of existing houses in Sutton to HMOs will require planning permission. 

“This will allow the Council to assess all HMO applications against local planning policies and avoid HMOs being concentrated in certain parts of the borough.

“There is a place for HMOs in Sutton to help meet the diverse housing needs of our residents. But it is important that the Council can strike the right balance between ensuring new homes that  are in the right place, are of a high quality and do not impact negatively on existing communities and local services.

“Our population is growing in Sutton and there is likely to be more pressure for HMOs so it is right that the Council acts now to tackle this issue, so that we don’t lose more vital family-sized homes in our borough. Greater control over HMOs in Sutton could also help improve the living conditions of private tenants living in HMOs by ensuring only acceptable schemes can come forward.”



  1. The 2015 Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 Act allows homes to be converted to flats without planning permission from the local council as the planning authority.
  2. An Article 4 Direction enables local planning authorities to withdraw specified permitted development rights, meaning full planning permission would be required and judged against the borough’s planning policies, as set out in the Local Plan.
  3. If agreed by councillors, the Article 4 direction would: 
    -  mean that the Council will have full planning control over HMOs, regardless of size, and ensure that those that do get permission make a positive contribution to Sutton.
    -  see the implementation of a Non-Immediate Article 4 Direction, where the Council would give 12 months’ notice to developers, landowners and potential landlords before the change is introduced.
    -  have to notify the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government who can revoke or amend the decision.
  4. A non-immediate Article 4 Direction will give the Council the opportunity to consult on its proposals so landlords will be able to make representations and have this considered by the Council.
  5. The introduction of an Article 4 Direction would not ‘ban’ or prohibit HMOs coming forward. It would mean though that a full planning application would be required and then considered by the Council. This would allow the Council to consider other matters that do not currently apply to small HMOs, such as local amenity, design, access, noise, bin storage, traffic movements to/from the site, car parking and cycle storage. If proposals were not able to satisfy these policy requirements, then planning permission could be refused.
  6. The number of HMOs among private rented households in Sutton increased by 34% between 2011 and 2021. Permitted Development rights for small HMOs mean there is a risk that further family homes will be lost in the borough. Based on growth so far, the number of HMOs in Sutton is predicted to nearly double over the next ten years.
  7. The report on an Article 4 Direction will be considered by councillors at the Housing, Economy & Business Committee on Wednesday 28 November.