Rapid increase of HMO developments in Catford

12 Oct 2023

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

Many of you may have asked yourselves why there has been such a rapid increase in the development of HMOs in Catford. It is as a result of Lewisham Council confirming a non-immediate Article 4 Direction for Lewisham's southern wards (Bellingham, Whitefoot, Downham and Grove Park) in March 2019. This withdrew permitted development rights for the change of use from dwelling houses (Use Class C3) to small HMO's (Use Class C4) and caused a reduction in HMO development activity in these areas.

HMO developers then shifted their property searches and acquisitions from these wards to Catford South and Rushey Green wards, where house prices are relatively lower than some other parts of the Borough of Lewisham.

It is perhaps pertinent at this point to add that Lewisham is behind other London boroughs in having an overall strategy on HMOs .

Poor housing development and management standards

Of course, there is a place for HMOs in a Council’s housing policy and they do fulfil a need. We acknowledge that there are many that are well run and look after their tenants. However, it is the experience of local residents that HMO developers will commonly add a loft to a 3- bedroom property and reconfigure internally to create 6 individual habitable rooms within the property.

They usually incorporate a small, shared galley kitchen and each bedspace varies between 10m2 - 14m2generally have the following features:

  • A washing machine fitted in every individual dwelling room bedspace
  • An extremely small en-suite shower installation in each room
  • Inadequate sound proofing
  • A lack of storage for larger personal possessions e.g., buggies, bicycles
  • No parking provisions
  • No access to amenity space or a garden
  • No disability access
  • Insufficient off-street space for an adequate number of refuse and recycling bins for the number of tenants

Often the conversions take place without a party wall agreement or even a discussion with neighbours about how the impact on adjacent properties will be managed during the construction phase and afterwards.

Significant numbers of the people placed in small HMOs have a range of supported housing needs. These include ex-offenders, people with addiction, victims of domestic violence, and people with mental health issues. Our experience is that many of the HMO providers in Catford South and the neighbouring wards do not in practice have the willingness to ensure the right skills and resources are in place to support the needs of tenants in these groups. Sadly, this often results in significant anti-social behaviour and a growing need for regular involvement of an already stretched local police team.

The A4 HMO Campaign group in Catford South presented the Council with evidence of the negative effect that this influx of HMOs has had on the area. The Council then agreed to look to having an Article 4 Direction for the whole of the Borough. Lewisham Lib Dems very much supported this excellent work.

Lewisham Council then agreed there was n a case to put a non-immediate Article 4 Direction for the whole of the Borough and sent the papers to the Department for Levelling up Housing and Communities for them to scrutinise.

Unfortunately, the rollout of the Article 4 was delayed due to an oversight by Lewisham.

Originally the representation period was to be between 30 September and 5 December 2022 with the intention of the Article 4 coming into force in September 2023 but, due to what is referred to as a technical error i.e., the papers were not signed. The Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities sent them back for resubmission.

The whole process had to be done again with the period of representation going from 18 January to 1 March 2023. The delay has of course meant that an even greater influx of developers has moved into the borough with the intention of converting small family homes into HMOs.

The correctly signed and dated papers were finally submitted.

Lewisham Council have now approved the making of a non-immediate Article 4 Direction for the remainder of borough, in addition to the existing 2020 Article 4 Direction covering Lewisham’s southern wards (previous ward boundaries), to withdraw permitted development rights for the change of use from dwelling houses (Use Class C3) to small HMO’s (Use Class C4).

From 19 January 2024 anyone within the Borough wishing to convert a family dwelling into a small HMO will need to apply for planning permission. This will allow residents within the area to register an objection. The Planning Department will need to consider those objections and to take into account any adverse effects an HMO would have on the area. These could be:

  • the number of HMOs in the vicinity are there already
  • numbers and uses of other properties in the vicinity, or example nurseries, hostels, care homes
  • parking provisions
  • bin storage

Once the Article 4 comes in it is to be hoped that the number of HMOs will be more measured and take into account the effect these can have on other residents of the Borough.