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Government to rush through changes to housing laws

Houses buy the sea

With time running out for the Conservatives, the government wants to make a last-ditch impact on the crises facing both housing and the High Street.

The housing secretary Michael Gove has announced restrictions on Airbnb style short-term lettings. He also wants to relax rules on permitted development rights for commercial to residential conversions.

Short-term let restrictions

The convenience of the online holiday booking service Airbnb, and a few others like it, coupled with a squeeze on profits of traditional buy-to-lets, has resulted in a boom in short-term lettings.

The trend is hitting hotels and traditional B&Bs. They are being undercut by the myriad of ordinary householders and buy-to-let landlords moving over to the lucrative short-term lettings market.

The trend has been particularly hard-felt in English seaside towns, where a transient working population and local residents are finding it difficult if not impossible to find longer-term rental accommodation. Consequently, local employers can’t attract workers to the area during the holiday season.

It appears the proposed changes will introduce a London style short-term letting model. In London, property owners don’t need to apply for planning permission to use an entire flat or house as a short term/holiday let if they pay the Council Tax for the property, but each individual short term let is limited to no more than 90 days. 

The total number of holiday-let days over the calendar year is also no more than 90 days. More than 90 days of short-term letting in the year and owners will have to apply for full planning permission to convert a flat or house into a short-term or holiday let.

In London, owners don’t currently need planning permission to let their property on leases of over 90 days and they don't need to apply to let a room within their property whilst you are still living there permanently – that is, taking in lodgers.

Check for restrictions

Owners and landlords in any case should check for restrictions in their leases, tenancies, insurance or mortgages that prevent letting and there may be restrictions on tenants letting anyone else stay in their home.

According to the Sunday Times, the new rules will be devolved to local councils to enforce, empowering them to remove permitted development rights in those areas where there are large numbers of short-term lets.

[…each individual short term let is limited to no more than 90 days]

Commercial conversions 

Michael Gove, who has recently announced a relaxation in permitted developments involving the conversion of commercial properties – shops and offices – for residential use. He has also made a promise to remove the Section 21 eviction no-fault eviction rights, says a government source: 

“Short-term lets play an important role in the UK’s thriving tourism sector, but in some areas too many local families and young people feel they are being shut out of the housing market and denied the opportunity to rent or buy.”

Amanda Cupples, Airbnb’s general manager for northern Europe told the Sunday Times that Airbnb will back Gove’s proposed changes to the planning laws, which will only apply in England, because they will provide some clarity, and they are less stringent than those applying in Scotland, she says:

“Many communities have legitimate concerns about housing. Airbnb is not the cause of England’s housing challenges, but we want to work hand in hand to address the challenges that people are facing.”

She also thinks that: 

“A national registration scheme, alongside planning powers for councils to effectively manage any local impacts, will be a positive step. New rules will help give authorities reliable data to understand and respond to the activity taking place in their communities.”

Permitted development rights - conversions

Legislation laid before parliament will now extend the current permitted development rights to allow commercial buildings of any size (previously capped at 1,500 sq m) to be converted into residential use, without the need to go through the full planning process.

The government is today also launching a consultation on proposals that would allow property owners to build extensions or large loft conversions without planning permission.

Pressure on the “High Street”

Since the advent of internet shopping there has been a major impact on some high streets, with dramatic drops in foot-fall in those shopping in towns and city centres worst affected. There's nothing new in this as many town centres were already being affected by the pull of “edge of town” and “out of town” shopping malls, with free parking. Increased car ownership has accelerated this trend.

Many high streets have survived all these pressures unscathed but these are mostly those located in affluent areas, where people live close by and shop local, and can afford the premium prices to do so. 

Alarming devastation and deprivation

In poor & deprived communities it’s a different story: across the UK many High Streets have been decimated, with closed-up shop fronts dominating and creating a downward spiral of vacancies, a never-ending decline which will not change unless incomes & opportunities improve. One possible route to improvement is to attract more people to live, work and play in these town centres.

Relaxation of permitted development rights therefore is intended to help this process along. It represents perhaps the last throw of the dice by the government to bring back life into these decaying high streets, while perhaps boosting the government’s chances at the coming election, currently faced with a 20-point poll deficit.

Government consultation

Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) has also announced it is issuing directions to local planning authorities to be “less fussy about brownfield developments and be more “flexible” in applying policies that halt house-building on brownfield land.”

Planning authorities in England’s 20 largest cities and towns are to be put under a government mandate to follow a ‘brownfield presumption.’ That means that if house-building drops below expected levels, DLUHC expects they will make it easier for developers to get permission to build on brownfield sites, while this will simultaneously relieve pressure on the green belt.

A government consultation on these new proposals is expected to run until Tuesday 26th March, and the government will look to implement these changes to national planning policy as quickly as possible.

Barratt Developments chief executive David Thomas has said: 

“We welcome any efforts to make it easier to get planning permission, particularly for brownfield regeneration which is already naturally a more complicated and capital-intensive process. Industry and local and national governments need to work together to find ways of delivering more new homes more quickly, including on previously developed land, and this is a positive step.”

British Land chief executive Simon Carter said: “Today’s announcement is another important step towards unlocking the potential of brownfield urban regeneration. British Land has consistently advocated for practical, deliverable planning reform which prioritises brownfield development, accelerates the pace of housing delivery and helps to secure long-term sustainable growth, by intensifying development in urban areas where it is needed most.”

Landsec chief executive Mark Allan said: “Landsec has been campaigning to unlock more economic growth, more homes and more jobs by refocusing national planning policy on the opportunities provided by brownfield urban regeneration. The emphasis on maximising housing development in urban areas set out today means that we can seize some of those opportunities, deliver more homes and secure better outcomes for cities and the people who live there.”

Credit -

Section 21, the Shorthold tenancy and the Renters (reform) Bill

Despite a group of Conservative MPs – said to own around 50 rental properties between them – attempting to water-down some of the measures included in the bill, Michael Gove has insisted that Section 21 evictions will be “outlawed” in England before the next general election. He indicated that he intends to honour the conservative’s election manifesto promise to end no-fault evictions.

The legislation currently passing through Parliament will effectively end the Assured Shorthold Tenancy introduced under the Housing Act 1988. 

It is to be replaced by continuous periodic tenancies. These will allow tenants to break and leave at short notice, but landlords are to be held to giving tenants long-term security of tenure. They will only be allowed to regain possession under certain limited grounds, mainly if they wish to sell or reoccupy themselves.

If tenant’s breach their tenancy contract, such as failing to pay rent or damage the property, they may be subjected to eviction, but the decision will be taken out of the landlord’s hands and handed to a judge or an alternative dispute resolution process.

Amendments have been proposed to the Bill by both landlords and tenant groups. The former wish to relax the rules, while the latter wish to make them even more restrictive on landlords. One proposed reform is to allow landlords and tenants to have a fixed-term tenancy if both parties agree to it, but other MPs are strenuously posing back in the idea, claiming tenants will feel obliged to comply, especially in the current housing shortage market..

The Bill has been continuously delayed since its inception. This has led housing commentators and others to question the government’s commitment, to the changes, and what’s more the government had previously said that a Section 21 ban cannot be enacted until the court system is improved in order to deal efficiently with Section 8 claims – a position that is supported by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA).


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