What Is An HMO And Do You Need An HMO Licence?

If you want to rent out a house in multiple occupations in England or Wales you must contact your council to check if you need an HMO licence

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What is an HMO property?

What exactly is an HMO property? HMO stands for House in Multiple Occupation. What this means, is a house or a flat that is rented out by a group of at least three people who are not from a single household.

A household can include a single person, couples, parents with children, foster parents, and carers.

In an HMO the occupants will also typically share communal spaces including the kitchen, bathroom, and sometimes living spaces too.

There are many types of accommodation that could be deemed an HMO. These may include, but are not limited to:

As you can see the term covers a broad range of potential properties. A good rule of thumb though is if the occupants (three or more not from the same household) share facilities such as bathroom or kitchen the property could be deemed an HMO.

Which features determine whether or not a property is deemed to be a HMO?

In order for a property to be classified as a HMO it should have several common features. These are:

  • Occupants are not forming a single household (see note above)
  • Occupants must be using the property as their only or main residence
  • The accommodation must be used solely for residential purposes
  • One of the occupants must be paying rent

These common features are applicable to individual flats, but different rules apply when taking whole converted blocks into consideration. All of the above must be in place for the property to legally be classed as a HMO (unless the property is exempt – see below).

What makes HMOs different to other rental properties?

HMOs can house a high number of people. And, in order to avoid the property being exploited and ensure the safety and well-being of the tenants, local authorities pay particular attention and take health and safety in HMOs very seriously. As such, tenant grievances are likely to be acted upon quickly and punishments implemented should they be brought to the attention of their Tenant Liaison Officer (TLO).

Prosecution of landlords who fail to comply isn’t unheard of and, in extreme cases, the council may even take over the managerial duties of an HMO themselves. In addition, in order to run a HMO you may need a licence.

Landlord responsibilities when managing an HMO

As mentioned above, landlords operating a HMO need to stay on top of health and safety issues and ensure their property remains compliant with HMO letting guidelines.

A few key things to keep in mind managing an HMO, are:

  • Gas safety – annual checks
  • Electrical safety – checks made every five years
  • Fire safety – smoke and carbon monoxide alarms fitted and maintained
  • Rubbish disposal facilities provided
  • Adequate cooking, cleaning, and washing facilities provided and maintained
  • Communal areas to be kept clear and clean
  • Managing overcrowding issues

HMO fines and do you need an HMO licence?

If you want to rent out your property as a house in multiple occupations in England or Wales you must contact your council to check if you need a licence. Generally speaking, any large HMO will need a licence unless it qualifies for an HMO exemption (see below). A licence is only valid for up to 5 years. After which point you will need to get it renewed. Additionally, you must have a separate HMO licence for each and every HMO you own.

You must have a licence if you’re renting out a large HMO in England or Wales. Your property is defined as a large HMO if all of the following apply:

  • it is rented to 5 or more people who form more than 1 household
  • some or all tenants share toilet, bathroom, or kitchen facilities
  • at least 1 tenant pays rent (or their employer pays it for them)

(Please note, you don’t need a licence to rent out other residential properties in this borough.)

You must meet HMO obligations and safety checks, including making sure the property is not overcrowded and that there are enough facilities for people living there. You’re responsible for repairs to communal areas.

HMO fines and penalties depend on your local council but can include:

  • prosecution and unlimited fines
  • rent repayment orders, which your tenants can use to reclaim up to 12 months of rent
  • management orders, which your council can use to take over managing your HMO

Further information is available for landlords and tenants on the following websites:

Apply for a licence

HMO Exemptions: Properties Exempt From Needing An HMO Licence

Not all properties with multiple occupants are deemed to be HMOs for the purposes of the Housing Act 2004. Certain types of properties qualify for HMO exemptions including:

  • a property occupied by two people living as two households (two-person flat shares)
  • buildings managed or controlled by public sector bodies (such as the police or the NHS), the London Hostels Association or a registered social landlord
  • buildings occupied by students and the person in control is the educational body
  • buildings converted entirely into self-contained flats
  • buildings occupied by a resident landlord and his family with no more than two lodgers
  • buildings regulated under another act, such as care homes or bail hostels
  • buildings entirely occupied by freeholders or long leaseholders.

If a property with multiple occupants is exempt from needing an HMO licence. It’s worth noting that they may still be required to make adequate provisions for fire precautions and have suitable amenities.

Letting a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Guidelines

The first thing you need to do if you’re letting out a property with multiple occupants is determine if you need a licence.

Other things to consider include:

Planning permission for HMOs

Depending on the size of the property and the planned occupancy you may need to acquire planning permission if your want to convert a property to an HMO. Generally speaking, you will only need to obtain planning permissions if there are going to be more than six people living in the property.

For further information visit change of use (planningportal.co.uk)

Standards and regulations

An HMO must meet the minimum standards required by law to legally be let. You will need to ensure the property is:

  • Safe – for example, ensure you have up to date gas and electrical safety certificates for the property.
  • You will then need to send the council an updated gas safety certificate every year.
  • install and maintain smoke alarms
  • provide safety certificates for all electrical appliances when requested
  • Managed properly – the manager of the house – you or an agent – is considered to be ‘fit and proper’, for example, they have no criminal record or breach of landlord laws or code of practice
  • Adequate sanitary and kitchen facilities – the house must be deemed suitable for the number of occupants (this depends on its size and facilities).

You should also check with your local council as they may have additional conditions that you must meet for your licence. For example, they may require you to improve the standard of your facilities. They should let you know of these specifics when you apply for your HMO licence.

Basic rules to follow when running an HMO let

The specifics may vary depending on the local council’s guidelines but the below guidelines are a general guide for landlords to follow to ensure their HMO is managed properly and is suitable for the number of occupants.

  • Only two occupants per room
  • Rooms should only be shared by people that consent, ie. couples.
  • No one 12 years or older should share a room unless they are a cohabiting couple.
  • No bathroom, toilet, office, lobby, kitchen, cupboard, corridor, or circulation space must be used for sleeping purposes
  • All rooms used for sleeping must have access to natural light and ventilation.
  • While basements and lofts can be used as sleeping accommodation there are additional hazards that are often associated with these spaces such as fire hazards that must be considered.
  • Inner bedrooms are not acceptable (This is a bedroom which can only be accessed by passing through another room, such as a lounge, kitchen, or bedroom.)

Ideal minimum room sizes

The minimum sleeping room floor area sizes (subject to the measurement restrictions detailed in the paragraphs below) to be imposed as conditions of Part 2 licences are:

  • 6.51 m2 for one person over 10 years of age
  • 10.22 m2 for two persons over 10 years
  • 4.64 m2 for one child under the age of 10 years

It will also be a mandatory condition that any room of less than 4.64 m2 may not be used as sleeping accommodation and the landlord will need to notify the local housing authority of any room in the HMO with a floor area of less than 4.64 m2.

The measurement is one of wall to wall floor area where the ceiling height is greater than 1.5m. No part of a room should be included in the measurement where the ceiling height is less than 1.5m.

Common rooms required:

HMO occupied by one to five people:

The kitchen must have a minimum size of 7 square metres and there must be an additional living room or dining room with a minimum size of 11 square metres, or there must be a kitchen diner with a minimum size of 16.5 square metres.

HMO occupied by six to 10 people:

The kitchen must have a minimum size of 10 square metres and there must be an additional living room or dining room with a minimum size of 16.5 square metres or there must be a kitchen diner with a minimum size of 19.5 square metres

Kitchens must also be a minimum of 1.8 metres wide to allow occupants to move around safely.

Bedsits (rooms provided with cooking facilities)

  • If occupied by one person: there is a minimum room size of 13 square metres
  • If occupied by two people: there is a minimum room size of 20.5 square metres

No separate communal lounge, kitchen, or dining room is required.

Supporting Documents Required When Applying For An HMO Licence

As part of the application for an HMO licence you will likely need to provide the following supporting information:

  • Photo ID of the proposed licence holder
  • Photo ID of the proposed manager
  • Latest fire alarm test certificate
  • An Electrical Installation Condition Report carried out within the last five years proving the condition of the whole of the fixed electrical wiring and lighting circuits in the property
  • Current Landlord’s Gas Safety Register (gas safety certificate)
  • An example of a tenancy agreement or terms of occupation
  • Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) testing certificate covering all portable electric appliances supplied to the tenants
  • Copy of the fire risk assessment
  • Floor plans detailing the layout of every floor

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