RESIDENTS groups in Southampton have welcomed new powers aimed at halting the transformation of family neighbourhoods into student ‘ghettos’.

Housing Minister John Healey said from April landlords wanting to rent out private dwellings to three or more people will first have to obtain planning permission from the city council.

Under the current rules, consent to change the use of a property – from private dwelling to house of multiple occupation (HMO) – is required only where tenants number six or more.

It is anticipated that councils will take advantage of the change, which follows a consultation, to block the proliferation of shared rented homes in areas like Polygon and Portswood, to curb problems with noise, littering and other anti-social behaviour.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) admitted that high concentrations of shared houses can sometimes cause problems but added that the legislative changes will affect only new rental properties. Existing stock, will be exempt.

Councils could also be allowed to impose their own licensing regimes in “hotspot’’ areas to ensure all rented accommodation is safe and kept to a good standard.

Currently, only landlords of three-storey buildings of five tenants or more must apply for an HMO licence.

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham, the Communities Secretary, who has long called for reforms to the HMO regime, said: “When a high proportion of the population of an area changes every year it undermines the strength of the local community and makes homeowners less likely to invest in their homes.

“I've campaigned for these changes, alongside local residents, for years so am delighted they will now be made.’’ Alan Whitehead, Labour MP for Southampton Test, said: “This will be a good deal for everyone in Southampton, not just people looking for family homes but also students, who will benefit from a tougher licensing regime which landlords will find it harder to evade.”

Lorraine Barter from city lobby group Residents Action welcomed the announcement but said it had come “too late” for some areas in Southampton.

The Polygon resident said: “We have been campaigning for this for ten years and it is fantastic to see it actually implemented.

“For some areas such as the Polygon, Portswood and Bevois Valley it is too late – HMOs have ruined the areas.

“But this ruling may save some of the areas of the city with less HMOs such as Highfield from having the same problems.”