Houses in multiple occupation

The Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) details how planning policies are applied when considering planning applications for HMOs.

Since the SPD was first adopted in 2012 it has gone through a number of revisions. You can download the current HMO SPD, which was adopted in December 2019.

Amendments to the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD)

A consultation on amending the HMO SPD was held between July and September 2019. 

The proposed amendments consider the amenity of occupiers of neighbouring properties and provides a clearer description of how the Council will address planning applications for the expansion of existing HMOs in areas which are already imbalanced while promoting mixed and sustainable communities.

A list of consultation responses received is now available 

Following a period of analysis, the amended HMO SPD was adopted in the Culture and City Development meeting on 29 November 2019.

When is planning permission required?

An Article 4 Direction relating to houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) came into force in Portsmouth on 1 November 2011.

The Direction means that planning permission is now required in order to change the use of a Class C3 dwelling house to a Class C4 HMO where between three and six unrelated people share a kitchen and/or a bathroom.

Frequently asked questions about these use classes, HMOs and the changes can be found in the Frequently asked questions section.

There is no need to apply for planning permission for properties that were already in Class C4 use before 1 November 2011.

C4 use

Previously owners and landlords could let us know if their property was in C4 use before 1 November 2011 by printing and completing an HMO Registration form in order to be added to the HMO database.

We are no longer accepting these forms.

If your property has been in use as a House of Multiple Occupation, and want it to be registered as one and be added to the HMO database, then you would be required to submit an application for a Lawful Development for Existing Use.  For help on what this entails, please visit our page for submitting planning applications.

HMO database

You can read through a copy of our most up-to-date HMO Database.

The database is made up of records of properties with planning permission for Class C4 use, unique HMO use and mixed C3/C4 use, records of Class C4 HMOs submitted to the council by property owners, HMOs that have been issued a licence by the council and council tax records.

To confirm existing lawful use of a property, do not rely on the database as evidence. Find out whether planning permission for HMO use has been granted by using our Public Access system or contacting us. Or secure your own evidence to show that the property has been in continuous Class C4 since 31 October 2011, such as copies of tenancy agreements.

How planning applications for HMOs are decided - supplementary planning document

Policy PCS20 of the Portsmouth Plan will be used to determine planning applications for HMO use.

Detailed information about how this policy will be implemented is set out in our HMO supplementary planning document (SPD) document.

Frequently asked questions

What is a Class C4 use? 

A property is in class C4 use when it is occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals as their only or main residence and who share basic amenities for cooking and/or personal hygiene – Class C4 use applies regardless of the type of occupant. To be classified as an HMO, a property does not need to be converted or adapted in any way. The definition can include small bed-sits.

Types of use that are excluded from the C4 class include social housing, care homes, children’s homes, bail hostels, properties containing the owner and up to two lodgers and properties occupied by students that are managed by an education establishment.

Can you provide me with pre-planning advice on the likelihood of planning permission being granted to change the use of my property to Class C4 (HMO)?

Unfortunately we are unable to indicate at the pre-application stage whether or not an application would receive officer support.

The database is continually being updated as the status of property changes/becomes known/planning permissions are granted, but this only acts as one of the tools that we use to collate information about HMO concentrations in any particular area.

View our HMO Database.

I intend to buy a property that was in C4 HMO use before the 1 November 2011 – will I have to apply again for planning permission once I have bought it?

No, if the C4 use was established prior to the 1 November 2011 then this will be considered its lawful use. You should seek to secure your own evidence, such as copies of tenancy agreements, to show that the property was in Class C4 use on or before 31 October 2011. Please note, you may be asked to prove that the property was in such use before the 1 November 2011. If you are in any doubt about whether this is the case, you should seek independent advice.

You or the vendor could also apply to the city council for a Certificate of Lawful Use. There would be a fee for this certificate.

How do I apply for planning permission to change the use of my property from class C3 to class C4?

Planning applications for change of use can be made online using The planning portal website. For a change of use application we would expect to see a site plan and floor plans. The fee applicable to this type of application is £462.

I sometimes let my HMO property out to a family – will I need to apply for planning permission to change ‘back’ to a C4 HMO use each time I do this?

Letting a property in class C4 use to a family for any period of time will mean that its use will change to a class C3 dwelling house. You will need to apply for planning permission to change the use of the property ‘back’ to a class C4 HMO if you want to rent it out again to between three and six unrelated individuals.

Renting to less than three unrelated individuals would also mean that the use of the property has changed from class C4 to C3. (Unless, for example, there are other tenancy agreements in place for more occupants but only one or two are currently in residence or the landlord is actively seeking further tenants.)

Another option is to apply for planning permission for mixed C3/C4 use. This will mean that the property can be used in either way. You can apply for permission for a mixed C3/C4 use from 1 November 2011. The fee for this application is £462.

If my property is empty for a period of time will it lose its class C4 status? 

A property won’t lose its class C4 ‘status’ if it’s empty. If the property was used as a C4 HMO prior to it being empty (if this use was established prior to 1 November 2011 or if it was granted planning permission for C4 use after this date) then this will remain its lawful use.

What if I want to rent my property to more than six people?

The rules relating to properties where seven or more unrelated individuals are sharing amenities have not changed. Where there is a material change to this type of use, planning permission will be required. If you wish to rent your property to seven or more people, you must apply to the city council for planning permission to do so. There will be a fee to make this type of planning application.

Will I need a licence from the city council to operate an HMO? 

Yes – you may require a licence, under the Housing Act 2004, to operate an HMO. For more information, and to find out about our landlord accreditation scheme – please visit our pages for private landlords.