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“Too short to be any use”: Planning Inspectorate decision on short-term lettings and C3 use

Posted: 27/03/2019

An interesting planning appeal decision was issued on 4 March 2019 relating to short-term lets of flats.

It is common (and tempting) for flat owners who own their flats as investments to try to let their properties on the “Airbnb” type of market in order to fill short term vacancies in letting periods.

This is already a risk as such lettings are almost invariably a breach of the alienation covenants in their leases.

The appeal decision earlier this month is a reminder to tenants and landlords generally, that such lettings can also constitute a breach of planning use.

It related to a number of purpose built flats at Roman House and Florian House, Severn Place in Cambridge. The building owner had been using 13 flats for short-term lettings. The local authority served enforcement notices for breach of planning control on the basis that the premises were not being used as dwelling houses under use class C3 but for short-term visitor accommodation – a sui generis use for which the buildings did not have consent.

The notices (a separate one was served on each apartment) required that the use for short term lets of 90 days or under permanently cease and that all related advertising be removed.

The owner contended that there had not been a material change of use on the basis that the facilities and services provided at the flats were of a kind that would keep them C3 rather than any other class. The council, however, referred to the data assembled relating to the use of the flats and referred to the ruling in Moore v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2012] that in each case it would be a matter of fact and degree. The council pointed out that in one 11-month period the 13 flats had received over a thousand different bookings.

The inspector decided that there had been a material change in use for each of the flats and upheld the enforcement notice. Although the owner argued that their business model was to use the flats for longer term lettings in the future, the inspector felt that that was not sufficient to overturn the notice as the owner’s current plans did not preclude reverting to short terms lets at a future date.

This decision should be of particular note to landlords who have converted offices to flats or have a number of unsold flats in a new development where they are considering short-term lettings as a commercial option.

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