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Conversions - Houses converted to flats or HMOs

Page history last edited by Hugh 11 years, 5 months ago

See also Houses in Multiple Occupation

 

House in Multiple Occupation or Illegal Conversion?

 

There is understandable confusion between the terms House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and Illegal Conversion. In essence an HMO is generally used to refer to a pattern of occupation rather than any physical conversion. An illegal conversion is concerned with the physical conversion of a house into two or more units. Here are some definitions from Haringey Council:

 

House in Multiple Occupation -  an unconverted house in which more than 6 people share communal facilities such as living rooms kitchens etc.  These are distinct from a family house insofar as its occupants are not related to one another.  

 

Flat Conversion or conversion into multiple dwellings –  a house is that is converted into self-contained residential units. These will have their own wc,  bathroom, kitchen and living accommodation and usually there will be no communal area within the premises all being self-contained within individual residential units. These units are subject to their own council tax bands.

 

The legal situation

 

In Harringay in general

 

Unauthorised development or unauthorised change of use here is not illegal.  There is no strict liability offence and we cannot prevent a conversion or change of use.

HMOs

 

No action can be taken until a property is occupied as a HMO.  For HMO to be proven, it must be proven that more than 6 people reside at this property. This can be through tenancy agreements and housing benefit records if applicable as well as through site visits. Other services, such as private sector housing may have records indicating that this is a breach of planning.

Where a HMO exists (i.e. is occupied) and can be proven, we can serve an Enforcement Notice that requires it to be reversed.  Compliance would only require the numbers of occupiers to change and therefore the Notice can be complied with simply by less than 7 people occupying the property.  Enforcement action is difficult to sustain on appeal for marginal cases.

 

Conversions

 

No action can be taken until the property is converted into self-contained flats. We cannot prevent the installation of amenities such as additional sinks, even though it may be an indication that a conversion is taking place.

 

Once a house conversion has been in existence for 4 years the landlord may apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness to legalise its status. The Council is legally obliged to grant their application if the landlord can prove that:

 

i. the conversion has been in existence for 4 years

ii. there have been no complaints regarding the conversion

 

Proof can be provided by an applicant through (original?) documents like tenancy agreements, utility bills, council tax bills and statutory declarations from tenants. There is no statutory requirement on a council to do anything except look at the evidence in front of them and only the evidence supplied by the applicant. If the proof is satisfactory, the Council is beholden to grant the certificate even though they would not have approved it had it been properly made at the time of conversion.

 

If a complaint is lodged by a resident at any time during the four year period this in effect “stops the clock” on the 4-year rule meaning that regardless of how long the prosecution process takes the breach must be removed.

 

The Harringay Ladder

 

In essence the situation is that no conversions are permitted on the Ladder.

 

Extract from London Borough of Haringey's Unitary Development Plan

 

HSG11: RESTRICTED CONVERSION AREAS


Permission will not be granted for conversions in the following areas:


a) The Miltons: Area to North East side of Archway Road;
b) Archway Road: Area to the South West Side of Archway Road;
c) Harringay Ladder: Green Lanes to Wightman Road;
d) Stroud Green: Area bounded by Stroud Green Road,
Stapleton Hall Road, Florence Road and Woodstock Road;
e) Muswell Hill: Roads near centre
f) Bruce Grove Ward
g) Myddleton Road, Wood Green  
h) West Green Road
i) Crouch End: Roads near centre or
j) streets where conversions and/or HMO already equal 20% of the properties (see policy HSG6).


4.40 There are areas in the borough where over the years many properties have been converted from single dwellings into a large number of flats. Where many conversions happen in one area it can result in problems such as a significant increase in on street parking and a loss of family housing.


4.41 It is considered that in the areas mentioned above the majority of properties have been converted into flats and are now experiencing problems of extreme parking pressure and a significant adverse effect on residential amenity. Any additional increase in on street parking would be detrimental to the effective operation of bus services. Therefore conversions will usually be resisted in these areas as they have already reached their capacity for conversions. The restricted conversion areas are identified in SPG3a Density, Dwelling Mix, Floorspace Minima, Conversions, Extensions and Lifetime Homes.

 

The Ladder has been a no conversion zone for many years, unfortunately the council fail to actively enforce it. Knowing this, landlords go ahead without seeking planning permission, and many houses have been converted, often to low standards to cram as many people in as possible and which causes all sorts of problems. I

 

Enforcement of the law

 

The text for this section is taken verbatim from guidance provided by a Haringey Council Officer:

 

"Planning law and guidance is geared towards the remediation through grant of planning permission in the first instance with a right to appeal against a refusal.  The use of Enforcement Notices with punitive measures such as applications for Injunctions been seen as very much a last resort.

 

When investigating we will usually serve a Planning Contravention Notice which requires the interested parties to tell us what is happening in a property, this can result in co-operation from landlords and can avert conversions or facilitate early intervention.  

 

Where a conversion has been developed we can serve an Enforcement Notice to require its reversal.  This will provide a period of time before the notice comes into effect and a further period for compliance.  This period needs to ensure that where tenants are affected an appropriate period is allowed so that statutory tenancy rights are not affected.  This is inevitably time consuming and considerable leeway needs to be given in terms of timescales often to ensure compliance with the Notice.  During this time a landlord will be able to derive a financial advantage from the unauthorised development.

 

Prosecution can only be taken where a Notice is not complied with, and it will not itself result in compliance, although a Court summons is usually the stage at which landlords will consider compliance.

 

There are very limited powers to prevent HMO usage or conversion without approval.  

 

Preventative Injunctions can be used to prevent a planning breach, but these are expensive and we would have to prove how likely it is that this will happen.

 

A Temporary Injunction can sometimes be granted where the Court is not fully satisfied on the expediency to grant a full injunction and may therefore require the parties to return after a limited period of say 3 months to review the injunction. Sometimes an extension to this is allowed. Again it would have to be for a serious breach of planning control to be seriously considered.

 

Stop Notices can only be issued to prevent expected breaches of Planning Control where a breach has already occurred. In such instance this would be sub division into flats. Section 183(4) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provides that a Stop Notice shall not prohibit the use of any building as a dwelling house. Only an injunction could potentially prevent conversion works altogether but carries uncertainty as outlined above.

 

 

Certificates of Lawfulness

 

Applying for certificates of lawfulness is still seen as a way to avoid enforcement action.  Under planning legislation, a Certificate of Lawfulness cannot be granted, and an application should not even be validated, where an Enforcement Notice is in existence.

 

Efforts are being made to ensure that applications are rigorously checked in terms of both their validity and strength of the evidence provided.

 

Private Sector Housing Standards and Licensing

 

Under the Housing Act, HMOs are any premises occupied by more than one household.  Specifically houses occupied as HMOs which are 3 or more storeys, with 2 or more households are required to be licensed under a mandatory scheme operating since 2006.  These properties require full inspection, detailed plans to present to the fire officer, specification of works and enforcement of conditions if required.

 

Where properties fall below standards for licensing these are now subject to interim and final management orders, where the authority takes over the management responsibility.

 

Housing Standards Enforcement

 

Enforcement powers can be used to achieve the following:

 

  1. Management regulations apply to HMO’s which deal with a number of issues to protect the safety and comfort of the occupants. Controlling the waste from such properties is one of the requirements. Failure to meet the regulations is an immediate offence, although warnings are always given in most cases. It is a useful tool to focus a landlord as to their responsibilities.
  2. Space standards apply to the size of the rooms which will limit the number of occupants to the property, depending on the layout.
  3. Repairs and means of escape are dealt with under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. In most cases the most appropriate course of action is to serve an improvement notice which will specify the works required. The notice is subject to an appeal period, and can be enforced by prosecution or work in default.
  4. There are other statutory powers other than the Housing Act which deals with such properties which can deal with pest issues, filthy conditions, rubbish accumulation and nuisance."

 

 

Common problems in Harringay

 

xxxxx

 

 

What can Residents can do

 

 

Most important of all is keeping your eyes open and stamina!

 

 

Stopping new conversions

 

When you become aware of any building work nearby that may be a conversion, check this site or the Council's website to see whether planning permission has been granted. If it hasn't, your best course of action is to contact the LCSP (Ladder Community Safety Partnership - a kind of umbrella residents' organisation for the ladder) who have joined this site under the member name of LCSP. They have been active in monitoring this issue for the past few years.

 

Haringey Planning Enforcement Officer Sullivan said, "It is imperative that information about any breaches be passed to the Local Authority in a timely manner so that we can take enforcement action which generally involves issuing an enforcement notice which not only compels the owner to rectify the breach but also . If the enforcement notice was not complied with the council would take legal action via the magistrates court to bring about compliance."

 

 

Challenging applications for a Certificate of Lawfulness

 

Haringey Council have confirmed that file on COIs including the evidence supplied is open to the public for inspection, but they are not made available online at this stage.

 

Verify the evidence - xxxxxxxxxx

 

 

Stories from the front line

 

From Bushy, January 2010

 

I am delighted to be able to finally report success in my ongoing battle over the illegal conversion at 54 Effingham Road. It converted in the Winter of 2005/2006 into two flats. I first complained around 20 April 2006, around the same time as tenants first moved in, and have been fighting for the last 3 and a half years to keep the process moving (with huge thanks to Nora for her assistance). See the email below I received today. If I added up the man-hours I spent writting letters, phoning, emailing etc. it would probably be 50-60 hours. Proof that if you really want to win these battles against the illegal developments, you really have to take personal responsibility for constantly haranguing and berating the relevant departments (in both Haringey and the justice system) until you win. Happy to give assistance/advice to anyone who wants to hear more and has a similar problem. My only quibble is that the Defendant was fined just 5k (the max is 20k) despite raking it in for 3 years (see the previous discussion about just how lucrative these conversions are when rented out)

 

Further Information

 

1. Discussions tagged Illegal Conversion on Harringay Online

 

 

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