In 1638 Charles I gave a charter to Reading [ref 1] which included measures to prevent building small properties and the subdivision of homes into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

In the words of the charter, ‘certain covetous persons, preferring their own private benefit to the public good of the said borough‘, were building cottages and subdividing properties for poor people. To prevent this, the charter set out:

We therefore seriously advising for the good of the said borough… we do command, and, by there presents, for us, our heirs, and successors, we do declare, that, for ever hereafter, no cottage be erected, no messuage be divided into two tenements, nor two families live asunder in one messuage either so divided or not divided… and if any one presume to offend… he shall incur pains and penalties to be ordained by the mayor, alderman, and assistants of the borough…  [ref 2].

Some of the statements at the Planning Applications Committee during the discussions of a Baker Street (Abbey Ward) HMO application (160997) echo those from almost four centuries ago. What do with a proliferation of HMO conversions is not a new problem.

The application under discussion was for:

Change of use of the property from dwelling house (C3) to 8-bed house in multiple occupation…  to include erection of timber cycle store/shed in rear garden and additional refuse and recycling waste provision.

The property is not listed, although during the meeting it was suggested that a local listing could be applied for, but lies within the Russell Street/ Castle Hill Conservation Area.

Karen Rowland, of Baker Street Area Neighbourhood Association (BSANA) spoke of the conflict between housing need, conservation and council policy CS18 on residential conversions.  This policy states that:

Proposals to convert properties into self-contained flats or for multiple occupation will be assessed against the impact on the amenity and character of the surrounding area, particularly in terms of intensification of activity, loss of privacy, loss of external amenity space, the provision and location of adequate on-site car parking, and the treatment of bin storage areas.

She also requested that if the application was approved a condition of occupation be the retention and enhancement and certain external features.

Councillor Page asked Karen Rowland if BSANA would like to pursue an Article 4 direction over a wider area, like that for Jesse Terrace which comes into force on 1 February 2017. This would require that all HMOs, not just large ones, require planning permission. Later in the meeting he indicated the need for such a direction. Large parts of Katesgrove and Redlands have had Article 4 protection since 2012 because of the concentration of student housing in these wards.

Councillor Page spoke of the problems that were sometimes encountered with HMOs.

Management of HMOs has got to be improved, and that not only should these agreements cover the internal communal areas, but the external communal areas are the ones that really impact on the nature of a conservation area. We want to see agents who are engaged, who will take responsibility for taking the bins out and returning them and ensuring that the information about recycling arrangements to prevent the regular contamination of bins is part of the agreement, so that the agent and the landlord ensure that the regular turnover of tenants are constantly told and given that information [35:00].

Moving forward, Councillor Page said:

I would also like to request the committee ask officers to bring forward a report that enables us to strengthen on all future HMO applications the conditions that are required of them, so that we have a much stronger generic template that officers will give to applicants in the future to say this is what is required of you and it’s in line with our residential conversion policy. [36:30}.

The residential conversions supplementary planning document states (p7) that:

A proper agreement may be required to ensure acceptable management of all communal parts of the HMO.

Councillor Page added that, because of pressure on accommodation, HMOs would be the next new battlefront in maintaining standards in the town. Jack London described it in 1903 London [ref 3] ‘… the rental value of a neighbourhood went up while its tone went down.’

The application was granted with a condition about the management agreement, as discussed above. The request to officers to prepare a report on future management of HMOs was also approved.

More stringent application of the need for agreements for management of HMOs will have implications across the whole Borough.


  1. Berkshire Record Office – Image of Charles I charter
  2. John Man, The History and Antiquities, Ancient and Modern of the Borough of Reading. 1816. Appendix 1.  (from Google books)
  3. Jack London, The People of the Abyss p36.


  1. Houses in Multiple Occupation
  2. Reading Borough Council guidance on HMOs
  3. Reading Borough Council Residential Conversion Policy
  4. Planning Applications Committee 12 October 2016
  5. Planning Application 160997, 14 Baker Street
  6. Webcast of Planning Applications Committee 12 October 2016. The discussion is 09:00 minutes into the meeting.
  7. Reading Borough Local Development Framework Core Strategy. CS18 is on page 56.
  8. Confirmation of Article 4 direction for Jesse Terrace Planning Applications Committee 10 March 2016