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Article 4 Directions

What are Article 4 Directions?

Article 4 Directions are planning restrictions imposed by local planning authorities in the United Kingdom. These directions are used to control development and protect the character and amenity of a particular area. by limiting the extent of permitted development rights, which are the rights to carry out specific types of development without the need for a planning application.

In essence, Article 4 Directions require property owners in designated areas to seek planning permission for developments that would otherwise be allowed under permitted development rights. The idea is to create an additional layer of control to preserve the unique character of certain areas and maintain a balance between development and conservation.

Why should landlords be aware of Article 4 Directions?

It is crucial for landlords and potential property buyers to understand the planning status of a property within an Article 4 area, as this significantly impacts the value of a property.

With the example of HMO properties, if you purchase a property which you think can be let on a HMO basis (C4), but later find that it can only be let to families (C3), the rent achieved and thus the value of the property could be significantly lower.

If a landlord breaching planning regulations by letting to the wrong type of tenant, they could be liable to pay fines, penalties, or even the revocation of planning permissions.

It is also increasingly important that landlords with properties inside Article 4 areas are able to prove that they have the correct use class for their property. 

  • Local authorities are increasingly requiring proof of C4 status as part of the HMO application process. Birmingham City Council specifically are making this request.
  • Re-financing: When you come to renew any lending against your investment properties, most lenders will require proof of C4 status.
  • Selling: Just as your lenders might require proof of status when refinancing, if you’re selling to someone who is buying with lending, they too will demand to see evidence of the status of the property.

Previously, the required evidence could be as simple as tenancies agreements going back to the start of the Article 4 Direction, now however, a Certificate of Lawful Use or a Certificate of Lawful Development is required

How Article 4 Directions decided upon?

There are two main types of Article 4 Directions, both of which are implemented by local authorities directly. They do not require approval from central government.

Non-immediate Article 4 Directions: These directions require public consultation before being implemented, usually within 12 months of being served. During the consultation period, property owners and other interested parties have the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns. Non-immediate Article 4 Directions are often used in cases where the proposed changes are not urgent, and the local planning authority wants to gauge public opinion.

Immediate Article 4 Directions: These directions take effect immediately upon being served, without the need for public consultation. Immediate Article 4 Directions are used when the local planning authority considers that the risk of harm to a particular area is significant and requires immediate action. However, they are subject to review and can be modified or revoked after being in force for at least 12 months.

How are Article 4 Directions used?

Article 4 Directions can be applied to a wide range of development types and are often tailored to the specific planning concerns in a particular area. Here are some examples of Article 4 Directions that have been implemented across the United Kingdom:

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs): In several university towns and cities, Article 4 Directions have been implemented to control the conversion of single-family homes (C3) into HMOs (C4). This aims to maintain a balance between student accommodation and family housing, as well as to protect the character and amenity of residential neighborhoods.

Conservation Areas: In many historic towns and cities, Article 4 Directions have been used to protect the character and appearance of designated conservation areas. This can involve restrictions on altering the external appearance of buildings, such as changing windows, doors, or roof materials, as well as controlling the demolition of buildings and walls.

Industrial and Commercial Development: Article 4 Directions can also be used to manage the balance between residential and commercial uses within an area. For example, they can limit the conversion of ground-floor retail units into residential properties or restrict the expansion of industrial sites that could negatively impact the surrounding community.

Agricultural Land: In some rural areas, Article 4 Directions have been implemented to protect agricultural land from being converted into residential or commercial properties. This helps preserve the rural character of the area, as well as supporting local farming communities.

Solar Panels and Wind Turbines: In certain locations, Article 4 Directions have been used to control the installation of renewable energy infrastructure, such as solar panels or wind turbines. This can help protect the visual appearance of an area, especially in conservation areas or landscapes with high scenic value.

Shop Fronts and Signage: In some high streets or shopping districts, Article 4 Directions can be implemented to control the design and appearance of shop fronts, signage, and advertising displays. This helps maintain a cohesive and visually appealing streetscape, which can attract customers and improve the local economy.

Unintended consequences?

While the implementation of Article 4 Directions in university towns and cities to control the conversion of single-family homes into Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) aims to maintain a balance between student accommodation and family housing, there can be unintended consequences.

These restrictions may lead to a scarcity of available HMOs, causing rental prices for student housing to rise due to increased demand. In turn, this may result in higher rental yields for landlords who own existing HMOs, leading to a potential increase in the value of such properties.

Conversely, single-family homes in areas with high student populations may experience a decrease in value due to the restrictions on converting them into HMOs. This could negatively impact homeowners who may have relied on the potential for conversion as a means to increase the value of their property.

Overall, while Article 4 Directions help protect the character and amenity of neighborhoods, they may have unforeseen effects on the local property market and the housing options available to both students and families.

C3 C4 Suis Generis? What is the difference?

Planning “use classes,” are used to categorize different types of land use and development.

These categories are defined by the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order and help local planning authorities to manage and control land use and development in their area. 

Most residential and student rental properties have either C3, C4, or Suis Generis use class.

C3 (Dwelling houses)

This use class refers to residential properties that are designed for use by a single household. It covers three subcategories:

    • C3(a): Family homes occupied by a single person or a family.
    • C3(b): Up to six people living together as a single household and receiving care, such as supported housing schemes or homes for people with disabilities.
    • C3(c): Properties with groups of up to six people living together as a single household, where care is not provided, such as a small religious community or a homeowner who rents out rooms.

C4 (Houses in Multiple Occupation)

This use class specifically addresses properties occupied by three to six unrelated individuals who share basic amenities like a kitchen or bathroom. Common examples include student housing or shared rental properties for professionals. In some areas, converting a C3 property to a C4 property may require planning permission, particularly in areas with Article 4 Directions that limit the growth of HMOs.

Sui Generis

This term, which translates to “in a class of its own,” refers to land uses that do not fall within any of the other defined use classes. Some common examples include HMO’s with more than 6 occupants, betting offices, theatres, nightclubs, petrol filling stations, scrapyards, and hostels. When a property falls into the Sui Generis category, any change of use typically requires planning permission.

Below are examples (not exhaustive) of how properties with C3, C4, and Suis Generis classes can be used.

Use Class Examples
Family of any number occupying a property of any size
Couple occupying a property of any size
Two unrelated individuals occupying a property of any size
A couple, plus a separate individual occupying a 2 bed+ property
Two couples occupying a 2bed+ property
3,4,5 or 6 unrelated individuals
Suis Generis
7+ unrelated individuals

The Two Bedroom Property Trap

It’s intuitive to think of a 2 bedroom property as only having one use class as C3, however, as the examples above set out, if a 2 bedroom property is let to a couple plus an unrelated individual, or two couples, the use class required is C4.
If you own a 2 bedroom property within an Article 4 area and have let it to a family or two individuals at the time of introduction or since the Article 4 Direction came into place, the use class will have automatically changed to C3, and as such you have lost the ability to let the property to two couples, or a couple plus an unrelated person without applying for a change of use through the planning process.
This seems to be a further unintended consequence of Article 4 Directions of this nature. 

Is it possible to change a property from C3 to C4 or Suis Generis?

Outside of Article 4 Areas, property owners can change the use of a property from C3 to C4 and back again without concern. 

You always have to seek planning permission to change a property from C3/C4 to Suis Generis. 

Within an Article 4 Area which restricts permitted development of a property from C3 to C4, you would need to apply for planning permission to change a property from C3 to C4.

Most local authorities who have implemented these types of Article 4 Direction also have policies relating to granting or rejecting applications to change a property from C3 to C4. 

Birmingham City Council used to have a policy of allowing C3 properties to be changed to C4 if there were fewer than 10% HMO’s within 100m of the property. This policy seems to have been overtaken by a city wide policy to restrict the growth of HMOs within the city to the point when most, if not all applications to change from C3 to C4 have been rejected by Birmingham City Council. That’s not to say planning permission won’t be granted, or secured on appeal… but it won’t be easy.

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