Renting in the UK comes with its own special set of problems, and renting as part of an HMO household, even more so. Landlords come in all shapes and sizes, from those who just want to pack tenants into an HMO to make as much money as possible, to those who are so hands off that they’re almost invisible. Before you sign your tenancy agreement, it’s a good idea to make yourself aware of some of the most common problems with HMO landlords.
Landlords who fail to meet HMO standards. There is a reason why HMOs have a different set of standards to regular rental properties and that’s because having more people under one roof puts a lot of stress on those households. Every HMO landlord must meet basic standards, such as the need for a safe escape route in the event of a fire, keeping communal areas in a good state of repair and providing enough bins for rubbish disposal for the number of people living in the HMO.
What to do: speak to the landlord and ask them to rectify problems – put this in writing too if you want to have a record of it. If they refuse to do anything about the issues then you can contact the local authority. The local authority will be able to come and inspect the property and take action if they find it is dangerous, badly managed or unsuitable for the number of people living there, including prosecuting the landlord.
What not to do: stop paying rent. If you don’t pay your rent then you are in breach of your tenancy agreement and your landlord may be able to serve notice on you to leave the property.
Landlords who don’t return deposits. Some landlords – whether HMO or otherwise – seem to forget that the deposit a tenant pays can only be used to cover any damage that tenant might inflict on a property. It is not to be used to redecorate, to buy new furniture that has not been damaged or to cover a fabricated cost. Often landlords – or agents – will speak in language that indicates the deductions are non-negotiable and will become non-responsive or obstructive when it comes to getting that money back.
What to do: make sure that your deposit is protected by a deposit protection scheme – this is a legal requirement (see below) – and take a full inventory of the property when you move in and then again when you move out. Check your tenancy agreement for the timetable for deposit return and chase the landlord/agent for responses. If the landlord continues to insist on keeping some or all of your deposit for no good reason then raise a dispute with the deposit protection scheme holding your deposit.
What not to do: leave it too long to raise a dispute. There are time limits on how long you can leave it to raise a dispute over suggested deductions and use the deposit protection scheme’s internal dispute resolution service. The limit is normally three months and after that you’d have to go to court.
Landlords who don’t protect deposits. Some HMO landlords seem to be under the impression that the rules on deposit protection don’t apply to them. It doesn’t matter what kind of tenancy a landlord is using – whether all the tenants have signed the same tenancy or each has a separate tenancy for their own room – the deposits that are paid over must be protected in one of the three government schemes. Prescribed Information (i.e. information on where the deposit is being protected) must be provided within 30 days of the deposit being paid over by the tenant.
What to do: write to the landlord and draw his or her attention to the fact that this is a legal requirement. Highlight that if the deposit isn’t protected in time then you are entitled to make a claim against the landlord for the return of the deposit and compensation amounting to 1-3 times the deposit amount.
What not to do: accept it when a landlord says the rules are different for HMOs. Unless you are living in the same house as your landlord (in which case you could well be a lodger) the deposit must be protected.