What is an HMO?

Student sharers in an HMP eating pizza

An HMO is an abbreviation for House in Multiple Occupation, or House for Multiple Occupation. It loosely refers to shared accommodation.

When is a property an HMO?

A property is an HMO if it is occupied by 3 or more tenants from more than one household and some or all tenants share common parts such as a toilet, bathroom, or kitchen facilities. For example, 3 single people with their own rooms, or 2 couples each sharing a room. In other words, they’re not self-contained units or studios.

HMOs are a popular way for people to rent a room in a shared house, typically with bills included or capped. (Although this has reduced during the cost of living crisis). Usually the sharers are students or young workers. There are more HMOs in towns and cities than in the countryside.

It makes no difference if there’s one tenancy agreement for the whole property, or separate tenancies for each room. The determining factor is whether there are 3 or more individual renters, at least two of whom are from different households.

>> Related Post: What Landlords need to know about HMO investing

What does a household mean?

HMO sharers
An HMO includes two couples sharing a house

A ‘household’ is a single person, cohabiting couples (of any sex) or a family.

The definition of ‘family’ is very wide, and includes an extended or blended family. For instance, parents, grandparents, children (including foster children, stepchildren and children being cared for), grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces or cousins.

Overview of HMO regulation

There are a number of additional requirements for landlords of HMO properties. This includes more rigorous fire safety requirements, waste disposal rules and potentially the need to apply for a licence to manage the property, depending on the number of tenants living in the property and the policy of the local council.

Importantly, it is an offence not to comply with the HMO licensing regulations, with a maximum fine of £30,000. The renters and/or the council may also apply to the First-Tier Tribunal for a rent repayment order (see Shelter’s webpage for more information on rent repayment orders).

Student shared houses are likely to be HMOs.

Licensing of HMOs

Pile of HMO licences

The licensing requirements for HMOs varies from council to council, and properties in neighbouring streets, even within a borough, can be subject to different rules

Mandatory licensing – large HMOs

All HMOs with 5 or more tenants living in a property in two or more households who share common parts need an HMO licence from the local council. The licence must be renewed every 5 years.

Additional licensing – smaller HMOs

Some smaller HMOs also need to be licensed under an additional licensing scheme, and this depends on the policy of the local council. Some councils have additional licensing in place over the whole borough, others in certain wards, streets or postcodes. Others don’t have it at all. It’s a complete mishmash.

Unfortunately there isn’t one place to check whether an address is subject to additional licensing. It’s therefore important for potential HMO landlords to check their local council website (including individual London boroughs). Landlords can find out the council for a postcode on this council checker webpage.

Take the two neighbouring boroughs in London, Wandsworth and Lambeth, who have contrasting approaches to HMOs. Wandsworth doesn’t have an additional licensing scheme. Lambeth on the other hand introduced introduced additional licensing in December 2021 for the entire borough.

Lambeth’s additional licensing scheme covers properties occupied by three or more individuals who are not in the same household, that’s not already captured by mandatory HMO licensing. It also extends to some self-contained flats.

The cost of the licence is £506 “per habitable room” although there is a 20% discount if the landlord is accredited with the NRLA and some other organisations. The licence usually lasts 5 years, and the renewal fee is discounted.

The council can ask for the usual documents that any landlord needs to give renters (ie gas safety certificate and EICR) and also the following:

  • Automatic fire detection certificate
  • Fire risk assessment (see this page for an overview of fire safety)
  • Accreditation membership
  • Floor plan
  • Emergency lighting certificate
  • Tenancy/Management agreement(s)
  • PAT testing
  • Land registry title (dated within 28 days of application)
  • Property insurance
  • Asbestos survey

Here are Lambeth’s guidance notes for HMO licence applications.

Minimum bedroom sizes for licensed HMOs

The minimum bedroom (sleeping accommodation) sizes for licensed HMOs 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

The measurement is one of wall to wall floor area where the ceiling height is more than 1.5m, and excludes any part of a room where the ceiling height is under 1.5m (eg under eaves).

bedroom in eaves of house loft conversion
Loft conversions are tricky to measure as parts of the room where the ceiling is lower than 1.5m are excluded

Article 4 Directions

Article 4 Directions enable a local planning authority to require property owners in specific areas to obtain planning permission when it would ordinarily be allowed under the permitted development rules.

For HMOs, this means that planning permission is needed for converting single homes (C3 use) into HMOs (C4 use).

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The rules relating to HMOs are complex, and vary from local authority to local authority. It’s therefore important to do a lot of research before embarking on an HMO project.

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