Lewisham landlords  will need to apply for planning permission before they convert houses into small flats from March 7 in Bellingham, Downham, Whitefoot and Grove Park.

The new rules cover accommodation where between three and six unrelated people share basic amenities, such as a kitchen or bathroom, after being approved by the mayor and cabinet.

It is hoped the rule will help improve the quality of flats in the borough.

The authority held a year-long consultation on the changes, with residents responding positively to the proposals, Mayor Damien Egan said.

Of the 34 residents which took part in the consultation, 70 per cent were in favour.

The Council also received objections from the Residents Landlord Association (RLA) and National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS).

“We had this in consultation earlier in the year. It covers Whitefoot, Grove Park, Bellingham and Downham because that is where we know there are unscrupulous landlords buying up houses and converting them into five or six, one bedroom studio flats. They do this so they can charge the maximum level of housing allowance,” he told the cabinet.

“So we went out for consultation and are pleased to bring forward this report.”

Mayor Egan said he had visited some “squalid” flat conversions over the summer.

“I visited a couple of HMOs [House of Multiple Occupancy] this summer, one was a licensed one which was done really well, the other was the most squalid accommodation I have ever seen in my life,” he said.

A council officer told the cabinet the rules won’t stop people converting their homes into flats, but instead see council departments “raise the quality of accommodation.”

Cllr Jonathan Slater  said there had been a “rush” to convert homes into flats in Whitefoot, ahead of the rule coming in next March.