The problems with living in shared accommodation can arise when we don’t understand who is responsible for what. This is additionally complicated in an HMO by the fact that you may be a joint tenant or a sole tenant, both of which have different implications in terms of obligations. Below are some of the most common mistakes and issues we encounter in HMO living and what the consequences can be.
Forgetting the TV licence
If you’re living in an HMO you need to make sure – where you or others have provided a TV – that someone has obtained a TV licence. If the landlord has provided the TV then it’s up to the landlord to obtain a TV licence – if you and the other HMO tenants have signed one joint tenancy then only one licence is required. However, if there are separate tenancies in one building, each tenancy needs a licence. If the tenancy clearly makes tenants responsible for the TV licence this shifts responsibility from the landlord. Even if it isn’t specifically mentioned in the tenancy agreement there remains some onus on the tenant as the TV licensing website states “Tenants including student tenants should ensure that a TV used in a rental property is properly licensed, even if it is supplied by the landlord.”
Consequences: not having a TV licence can results in fines up to £1,000 and prosecution, as well as having to pay legal costs.
Not doing an inventory
Inventories are key for both the landlord and tenants of an HMO when it comes to establishing who has caused what damage. Sole tenants should do an inventory on arrival and also on departure. Joint tenants should complete a new inventory each time a tenant comes or goes, including both communal areas and individual rooms. If you’re moving in to an HMO then make sure you do a full inventory so that you don’t end up paying for damage that was caused before you got there. Some landlords take liberties when it comes to making deposit deductions in HMOs, charging two tenants for the same thing, for example, and hoping tenants won’t talk to each other.
Consequence: losing a proportion of your security deposit for damage that someone else has caused. It’s time consuming to have to take a deposit dispute to ADR so better to have written evidence you can use to prove responsibility.
Some HMO landlords will include bills in the cost of the rent, such as water, gas and broadband. Unlike non-HMO households, the council tax is not the responsibility of the tenants in an HMO, but falls to the landlord to pay. It’s important that you understand who is to pay what when you move in and find out whether any bills are going to be transferred into your name. In joint tenant HMOs, the responsibility for paying bills is shared and it will be up to individuals to make sure their bill is paid on time. If you are a sole tenant then you may have an individual meter for your utilities.
Consequence: an unpaid bill in your name may affect your credit status. If you don’t check whether your rent covers certain bills already then you may end up paying twice.
In an HMO house with more tenants under one roof, bad behaviour can unfortunately be more common. Before you take a room in an HMO house it’s a good idea to find out what kind of house it is – a party house, a family block, a group of professionals? If it’s a combination then what are the ‘rules’ in terms of noise and the handling of communal areas. Make sure it’s the right HMO for you before moving in. Once you move in then be communicative with the others you share a building with, particularly if they’re being noisy to a point that might disturb the nieghbours and bring consequences on you all (especially if you have a shared tenancy). Smoking isn’t usually allowed in the communal areas of an HMO but may be permitted in rooms – if you don’t want to be around even the faintest whiff of it then check whether others smoke before you move in.
Consequences: for those with individual tenancies, if you cause a nuisance then you may find your tenancy terminated as a result. Where there is a joint tenancy then it’s important to make sure that as a house you’re not causing a nuisance to neighbours or breaching the tenancy terms, or you could find you are all given notice because of one person’s behaviour.