When Do Landlords Need Planning Permission?

Planning permission is one of many hoops for landlords developing property. The rules are arcane and often baffling, leaving landlords unsure if they must go to the local council for planning permission or carry out work under building regulations and permitted development rights. Confused already? 

This guide explains the current planning permission rules in line with new advice from the Ministry of Housing. Don’t forget; the property owner must sort out planning permission before development works start - otherwise, going back to the drawing board can work out costly. 

This article relates to England - Wales, and Scotland having their planning law.

What is development?

The critical point of law is Section 55 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990, where the legal definition of development is set out. ‘Development’ includes:

Section 55 goes on to describe building works that do not need planning permission as:

  • Interior alterations
  • Building works that do not materially affect the external appearance of a building. The meaning of ‘materially affect’ is not explained in law but is linked to how a building’s outside appearance is changed.
  • A change in use where the before and after use falls within the same use class

Typically, buying and refurbishing a home as rental property does not need planning permission. Larger projects, such as converting a home into flats or a house in multiple occupation (HMO), will need permission.

Does all development require planning permission?

No. A lot of development is allowed under permitted development rights (PDR) and a certificate of lawful development (LDC. How PDR works depends on the location and type of property under development, and PDR can cover adding loft conversions, conservatories and extensions up to a specific size. Beware. Some PDR rules that apply to houses do not include flats or maisonettes. 

Other PDRs are restricted in conservation areas, national parks or world heritage sites. Unless you are sure PDRs apply, discussing your project with the local planning authority is a good idea before work begins. An LDC confirms a building’s use is lawful or proposed developments do not need planning permission. A certificate is not compulsory, but most lawyers will request one to prove the point when you come to sell.

Other consents and licences

Even though planning permission may not be needed, homeowners may need other permissions before carrying out work, such as:

Gaining planning permission does not affect applying for other consents or licences.

Is permission needed to subdivide a home?

Three rules apply to subdividing a home:

  • Subdivision work should not amount to a development
  • A divided building must fall into the same use class as the undivided building before the subdivision
  • Subdivisions cannot create more than one home in a single property

A change of use from a Class C3 home - the standard class for a residential property - to a Class C4 HMO does not need planning permission unless an article 4 direction is in place (see later).

Do I need planning for an Airbnb in London?

Homes in London have a period of grace for short-term letting before requiring planning permission to operate as a holiday let. 

The relevant information is in Section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973 as amended by Section 44 of the Deregulation Act 2015. In a nutshell, the law allows landlords to rent out homes liable to Council Tax as short-term holiday lets for no more than 90 nights in a calendar year. If the home is rented out for longer, change of use planning permission is needed.

What about planning for holiday lets outside London?

Holiday lets of more than 90 days a year in England but outside London do not need planning permission unless converting the property involves a change of use.

What is an article 4 direction?

Article 4 directions are a tool for planning authorities to tailor permitted development rights to their requirements - for instance, removing them for listed buildings, HMOs or conservation areas. If an article 4 direction applies in your neighbourhood, speak to the council’s planning department for clarification.

Find out more about planning and PDR

The Planning Portal website offers comprehensive guidance about planning permission and related topics. 

The interactive guide gives information about common development projects for detached houses,  terraced homes and flats

The government has also published planning permission guidance covering all the latest rules and changes. 

Landlords can check which planning authority covers a property by inputting the postcode on the RESI website, which also has a directory of architects and other property professionals.

View Related Handbook Page

Planning Control

Planning approval is essentially about controlling the use of land and is required to alter, extend or change the use of existing properties, or to make changes to a listed building or to a property in a conservation area