Property owners letting their properties to holidaymakers risk breaching planning law rules, writes property solicitor Iain Robinson of Slee Blackwell Solicitors’ Barnstaple office. By way of background, one usually needs planning permission from the local council to materially change the use of a property. Residential, or ‘C3’ use, is where the property is used as a dwelling house by people who form a family unit (or by an individual). It need not be their only or even their main home.
In a recent case, the owner of a large family house in Suffolk let the house out as a short term holiday let. The house slept 18 as a holiday home and was used by large family groups, but also by wholly unrelated people like cycling clubs and yoga groups. Some neighbours were unimpressed, and so was the local planning officer, who sent the owner a notice requiring her to stop using the building as commercial leisure accommodation. Needless to say, the holiday letting business was very valuable to the owner, who appealed the notice to the planning inspector, the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Sadly for her, she lost all three.
The court said that that the inspector was right to conclude that there had been a material change of use; on the facts, the use as holiday letting was very far removed from the previous use as a family residence. The notice stood, and the owner had to stop letting out the house as she had been. The court said that each council still has to consider a holiday letting brought to its attention on its individual merits, but it seems clear that the risk of being found in breach of planning is raised by having more people in each holiday party, and by having people from non-familial groups.
What can holiday cottage owners do? Councils can only take action against unauthorised changes of use for 10 years after it first happens, so any property so used continuously is likely immune from prosecution. Anyone who doesn’t have ten years under their belt could consider applying for retrospective planning consent, though this might alert the council when it was better to let that particular sleeping dog lie. We would usually advise against entering into a protracted legal battle like the one involving the house above unless there is a very good chance of winning, since the legal costs and litigation risks are quite high and it is very difficult to convince a court that an inspector’s decision on a matter of fact and degree was wrong.
The case above serves as a fourth option – the house is still advertised as a holiday let, but only for family groups.