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A House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) is essentially private accommodation that is shared with a number of different people. It could be a private halls of residence, a building that houses a number of bedsits, a hostel, shared house, blocks of converted flats or individual shared self contained cluster flats. There are many forms of student accommodation that could fall within the definition of an HMO. That official definition is:

– At least three tenants live in the property, forming more than one household
– The tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities with other tenants

The definition of a household is either a single person or members of the same family who are living together (this includes relatives or half relatives, couples married or living together, including same sex couples, and step children and parents).

Does a landlord require a licence for an HMO?
Not always. A licence is obtained from a local authority and different local authorities may have different rules on when a landlord needs a licence. However, in general, the following will mean that the property needs a licence:

– The property is at least three storeys high
– There are two or more separate households living in the building
– In total there are five or more unrelated people living in the building

When a local authority is deciding whether or not to grant a licence they will look at factors such as whether the landlord is a ‘fit and proper’ person to be managing an HMO and whether the property is sufficient to be an HMO in terms of factors such as size and safety. Landlords who should have an HMO licence but don’t can be fined up to 12 months rent.

Why does it matter?
There are certain standards that the landlord of an HMO must meet that are different from other rented houses – these are extra responsibilities that are designed to ensure those living in shared accommodation are safe and have decent facilities. These extra responsibilities include:

– Ensuring the property has adequate safety measures. This now includes smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms
– Making sure checks on gas and electrical systems are carried out. Gas is required every year and electricity every five years
– Providing sufficient rubbish bins and bin bags
– Avoiding overcrowding
– Providing cooking and washing facilities to a certain standard
– Keeping an eye on shared facilities and communal areas to make sure that they are in a decent state of repair

Like other landlords, an HMO landlord is responsible for most of the repairs to the property itself. Tenants are normally expected to carry out small repairs – check your tenancy agreement to see who is required to do what. In particular, the landlord is responsible for: electrical wiring, water and gas pipes, fixed heaters, radiators and water heaters, sinks, basins and toilets, as well as the structure of the building itself (walls, gutters, windows etc).

How does living in an HMO affect me?
On a practical level, you’re living with more people, which means more wear and tear to communal areas and a larger number of different relationships to manage. In terms of your dealings with the landlord, it means you can complain to your local authority if you don’t feel the property is up to scratch and the council is more likely to take action and help you than with a non HMO property.

Complaining about an HMO landlord
If you don’t think your HMO landlord is meeting the requirements mentioned above then contact the Environmental Health Department of your local council. The council can use something called the Housing Health and Safety Rating System to assess whether the property is up to scratch. This will assess hazards such as damp, blocked drains, unacceptable noise levels, vermin infestations, faulty electrics and damaged structural features, such as the stairs. The council can prosecute both the landlord themselves and any managers that they have working for them. If the situation is really bad then the council can take over the management of the property themselves.