Council Clamps Down on Conversion of Houses into Flats

Planning permission now required to create Houses in Multiple Occupation

The council's headquarters. Picture: Merton Council

March 21, 2023

Merton Council has made it harder for houses to be turned into flats without permission. It hopes the move will improve housing for tenants and reduce anti-social behaviour from “poorly managed” properties.

The council’s cabinet agreed on a “direction” which means small Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) can’t be created without planning permission. These are properties with up to six separate rooms where tenants share kitchen and bathroom facilities but pay rent separately.

This will be issued in seven wards of the borough: Figge’s Marsh, Graveney, Longthornton, Pollards Hill, Colliers Wood, Cricket Green and Lavender Fields.

Consultation carried out by Merton Council shows more than half of landlords were against the move while 81 per cent of tenants and residents asked agreed with the restrictions.

At a meeting on Monday (March 20) cabinet member for housing, Councillor Andrew Judge, said: “We have had numerous complaints received in the last year. Many described harm being caused to residents from small badly managed HMOs being created under permitted development rights and not being controlled. In many cases, they were too small to be covered by mandatory licensing.”

Permitted development are changes to buildings that can be made without applying for planning permission. Cllr Judge added: “We do believe that an immediate Article 4 direction is the only way we can prevent further threats to the local amenity for people living in the neighbourhoods selected, many of whom were upset by what was happening in regards to HMOs and we get emails on a daily basis.

“As well as protecting the welfare of tenants who are in inadequate Houses of Multiple Occupation with inadequate facilities and often facing a poor quality home environment and facing hazards in the home.”

The direction came into force in November for a period of six months and consultations were held. While cabinet members agreed to it at a meeting this week, the change is expected to go before full council in April.

Its introduction will not mean it is impossible to convert a “single-family” house into separately rented rooms, the council said. A report claims it will mean it is able to “ensure that they are of an appropriate standard and that they do not give rise to a harmful impact on amenity or wellbeing of the area”.

Tara O'Connor - Local Democracy Reporter