Houses in multiple occupation
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- In some cases, your local authority may class your accommodation as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO).
- If you feel that your property is being classed wrongly as an HMO by the local authority, you may appeal to a residential property tribunal.
- HMOs usually need to be licensed by the council and there is a mandatory national licensing scheme for large HMOs.
- Environmental Health Officers are responsible for enforcing HMO legislation locally.
What is an HMO?
An HMO is defined in the Housing Act 2004 as:
- An entire house or flat that is let to three or more tenants who form two or more households and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities.
- A house that has been converted entirely into bedsits or other non-self-contained accommodation, and which is let to three or more tenants who form two or more households and who share kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities.
- A converted house that contains one or more flats that are not wholly self-contained (that is, the flat does not contain a kitchen, bathroom and toilet) and that is occupied by three or more tenants who form two or more households.
- A building that is converted entirely into self-contained flats if the conversion did not meet the standards of the Building Regulations 1991 and more than one-third of the flats are let on short-term tenancies.
In order to be an HMO, the property must be used as the tenants' only or main residence, and it should be used solely or mainly to house tenants. Properties let to students and migrant workers will be treated as their only or main residence, and the same will apply to properties which are used as domestic refuges.
Therefore, holiday cottages let to families or other groups of people living together as one household for a holiday, who have a main home elsewhere, are not HMOs.
Where winter letting to groups of people who are not related is taking place, the premises may well be considered to be an HMO and you should seek advice.
What being an HMO means
Owners who intend anything other than holiday letting should seek advice and talk to their local authority. If the premises are deemed to be an HMO, they will have to meet some strict standards concerning amenities and fire precautions in the building. Usually, they will need to be licensed.
The great majority of holiday homes are not HMOs. Bed and breakfast accommodation may be deemed to be an HMO if it is let to people who don't have another residence.
However, a few local authorities have deemed some guesthouses, bed and breakfasts and holiday flats to be HMOs. When this happens, the implications for a proprietor can be far-reaching.
National licensing of large HMOs
The Housing Act 2004 introduced mandatory licensing and a new definition for HMOs. This legislation was extended through the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Description) (England) Order 2018, so that a property of five or more people – from two or more separate households – is deemed to be a ‘large HMO’, and the landlord must be licensed by their local housing authority.
Under the national mandatory licensing scheme, an HMO needs to be licensed if all of the following apply:
- It is occupied by five or more tenants who form more than one household.
- Some or all tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities.
- At least one tenant pays rent (or their employer pays it for them).
If your property is deemed to be a large HMO, you must ensure that:
- The house is suitable for the number of occupants (this depends on its size and facilities).
- The manager of the house – you or an agent – is considered to be ‘fit and proper’, for example they have no criminal record or previous breach of landlord laws or code of practice.
You must also:
- Send the council an updated gas safety certificate every year.
- Install and maintain smoke alarms.
- Provide safety certificates for all electrical appliances when requested.
Where a local authority has a licensing scheme for properties that are smaller than ‘large HMOs’, the council will grant a licence if it is satisfied that:
- The HMO is reasonably suitable for occupation by the number of people allowed under the licence.
- The proposed licence holder is a 'fit and proper person'.
- The proposed licence holder is the most appropriate person to hold the licence.
- The proposed manager, if there is one, is a 'fit and proper person'.
- The proposed management arrangements are satisfactory.
- The person involved in the management of the HMO is competent.
- The financial structures for the management are suitable.
Environmental Health Officers, who are responsible for enforcing HMO legislation locally, have the right to enter a property at any reasonable time after giving 24 hours’ notice in writing. Also, they may serve legal notices requiring the provision or improvement of amenities.
Properties of the relevant type must be licensed throughout the UK, while local authorities have discretion to adopt additional licensing schemes in regard to lower-risk properties. Before granting a licence, they will need to be satisfied that a set of standards are met. If they are not met, they will judge the property not to be reasonably suitable and refuse to grant the licence.
The standards come from a Government circular. Most local authorities adopt similar sets of standards, but there are variations. The standards include requirements for fire precautions. See the Fire safety (general) section for more information on fire safety.
The recent Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Description) (England) Order 2018 also introduces rules that set minimum size requirements for bedrooms in HMOs to prevent overcrowding, and require landlords to adhere to council refuse schemes in order to reduce problems with rubbish.
If you feel that your property is being classed wrongly as an HMO by the local authority, you may appeal to a residential property tribunal.
Your local authority
Detailed advice on HMOs is available from your local environmental health officer.
Guidance on private renting and HMOs
Your rights and responsibilities as a landlord can be found on the Gov.uk website.
Guidance on minimum bedroom sizes
Download guidance on extending mandatory licensing to smaller HMOs and introducing minimum bedroom sizes.
Applying for a large HMO licence
You can apply for a large HMO licence on the Gov.uk website.