Are you the landlord of a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)? Such premises have a formal definition, which makes them subject to a whole raft of housing legislation, so it is essential to understand just what an HMO is – and the special rules that apply to the building and you as the landlord.
What is an HMO?
In common usage, they may be known as a "house share", but the formal definition of a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) is let property that is:
- occupied by at least three tenants comprising more than one separate household; and in which
- essential facilities, such as a kitchen, toilet, and bathroom, are shared with the other tenants.
A distinction is made between regular and "large" HMOs simply by the fact that the latter is occupied by at least five separate tenants comprising more than one household.
By providing shared accommodation in this way, HMOs offer a valuable source of affordable housing. Nevertheless, the legislation recognises that the shared nature of that accommodation inevitably increases some of the risks to health and safety to which tenants may be exposed.
As we mention in our guide to HMO insurance, the presence of several different households, family members and their visitors means that the footfall alone in an HMO is significantly higher than usual. This raises the further dangers of overcrowding, health hazards from shared bathroom facilities and fire risks from the communal kitchens.
The enhanced responsibilities and obligations that you need to know a landlord owes towards an HMO and its tenants include the following:
- annual, certified, checks of any gas installation and its appliances – by a qualified gas engineer;
- certified checks – at least every five years – of the electrical installation, followed by the issue of an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR);
- compliance with national and local fire safety regulations (for example, the provision of fire doors);
- ensuring that the HMO is not overcrowded;
- provision of sufficient bathroom and kitchen facilities for the number of people living in the HMO;
- ensuring that communal and shared areas are kept clean and in good repair; and
- the provision of a sufficient number of binbags and rubbish bins.
These are the requirements with which the landlord of any type of HMO must comply. If the property is classified as a large HMO, the landlord must also hold a licence issued by the local authority – which may impose further health and safety standards and will also need to verify that the landlord is a "fit and proper person" to hold such a licence (in other words, he or she has not previously breached housing regulations relating to landlords and their let property).
In certain areas of the country, local authorities may also require a licence to operate a regular-sized HMO.
As part of the regulation against overcrowding in HMOs, local authorities may incorporate minimum standards for the floor area occupied by rooms used as bedrooms when granting HMO licences.
Those standards are outlined in guidance issued by the housing charity Shelter and stipulate that the relevant minimum floor areas are:
- 51 square metres for a bedroom occupied by anyone over the age of 10;
- 22 square metres if the bedroom is occupied by two people over the age of 10; and
- 64 square metres for a bedroom occupied by a child under the age of 10 years.
These are the minimum requirements, and in some parts of the country, local authorities may set higher standards and incorporate them into their licensing criteria.
Letting an unlicensed HMO
The penalties for letting an HMO without the necessary licence from the local authority may result in severe fines.
For failing to secure the necessary licence before letting your HMO, you may be fined up to £20,000, explains the National HMO Network. If you grant tenancies to more tenants than the licence for your HMO currently allows, you may also be liable for a penalty of £20,000. If you are letting your HMO in breach of any of the licensing conditions, you may be fined a further £5,000 for each breach.
In addition to any fines, you may also have to repay any rent that was illegally collected while you were operating an HMO without the necessary licence. Tenants and former tenants, for example, can apply to the Residential Property Tribunal (RPT) to the rent they have paid – for up to a maximum of 12 months. In the course of its deliberations, the RPT may decide just what sum must be paid in reimbursement to such tenants.
The local authority, too, can also apply for the necessary order to recover money paid by way of housing benefit (or the housing benefit part of any universal credit payment) to a landlord who operated an HMO without the necessary licence.