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Introduction to HMO

A House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) is essentially a property that is occupied by a certain number of renters (as defined below) who are unrelated to each other – so, not a family home.

There are many situations in which an HMO may exist, for example, a hostel, a shared house where each of the tenants has a separate lease, a B&B that is not just used for holidays and some types of shared student accommodation. Where a property is considered to be an HMO there are additional responsibilities for a landlord to consider. In some situations, a licence may also have to be obtained.

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What is an HMO?

The Housing Act 2004 is the legal text where HMO is defined. There are three main requirements to consider any property a house in multiple occupations. These are:

  • A property that is a flat or a house that is being let three or more distinct households where there are shared facilities, such as a bathroom.
  • A converted property of non-self contained flats – for example, bedsits with shared bathroom or kitchen facilities.
  • A converted property of self-contained flats where conversion has not met the requirements of the 1991 Building Regulations (for example, ‘proper materials’ have not been used) and more than one-third of the flats have been let on short-term tenancies.

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 stepchildren and parents).

Individual or joint tenancy agreements

Usually, different households will sign their own tenancy agreements with the landlord. This means they are independent tenants from all other occupants and have their own binding terms, like fixed term duration and deposit.

Some HMO properties are let with a joint tenancy. This means different tenants/households share the same tenancy and all rights and responsibilities which are derived from it. A joint tenancy does not allow one tenant to move out earlier than the other, because they are both bound by the same fixed term and share the same security deposit. The landlord can permit alterations to a joint tenancy releasing one tenant or the other from their contract.

An individual agreement is preferred. The communal areas are always joint responsibilities between all sharing tenants. However, individual rooms are a responsibility only to the occupying tenant when using an individual tenancy agreement.

With joint tenancies, all tenants are equally responsible for all rooms, facilities and rents. If one tenant falls behind on their rent payments – all other tenants bare the responsibilities equally. Similarly, if one tenant damages their room – all other tenants will share the repair costs. This can be a major source of disputes if a tenant goes rogue.

It’s important to check what tenancy agreement you’re asked to sign before you do. Don’t ever take up a joint tenancy with a total stranger, or you may suffer for their transgressions.

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Landlord responsibilities in an HMO

HMO landlords usually have all of the “normal” responsibilities you’d expect when renting.

Repairs – Like other landlords, an HMO landlord is responsible for most of the repairs to the property itself. 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).

Health and safety – Landlords are always responsible for the health and safety of their tenants. The property should not pose any health hazard to its occupants. This includes mould, damp, pests, gas, fire, electricity, etc.

Deposit protection – They are required to protect your deposit in a government scheme, where it will be held until the end of your tenancy.

Utilities – The property must be equipped and supplied with all necessary utilities – heating and hot water installation and reliable source of electricity.

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 include:

  • Ensuring the property has adequate fire safety measures. This includes smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers, fire blankets and fireproof doors.
  • Making sure checks on gas and electrical systems are carried out. Gas safety checks are 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

Tenants are normally expected to carry out small repairs – for example, change the light bulbs or test the smoke detectors. Obviously, cleaning and taking daily care of the property’s communal areas is a shared responsibility of all tenants. Individual rooms are a responsibility of individual tenants.

Check your tenancy agreement to see who is required to do what. Ask your landlord if you’re not sure.

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 sustain severe fines and penalties. If there are also safety breaches or health issues like excessive damp and mould, the local council can close the building entirely and even confiscate it from the landlord.

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How is living in an HMO different from regular privately let properties?

HMO properties are cheaper than self-contained privately let properties.  Younger people – students, recent grads and aspiring professionals frequently choose to band together to reduce their living costs.

However, living with other people is not always easy. Sharing the communal areas and respectively sharing the responsibilities, chores and cleaning duties is often a subject of in-house disputes. Tenants entering an HMO should accept making a fair amount of compromise and learn to deal with other people in tight environment.

Trust is very important in HMO properties. Some HMOs include locks on individual rooms, so you can rely on some level of privacy and security. Other times, you have to negotiate with the landlord to install a lock on your door.  Either way, you need to feel comfortable around your flatmates and trust them to not invade your privacy or use your personal belongings without approval.

It can be difficult meshing up your home culture with total strangers. Which is why it’s important to talk to your future flatmates and get a sense for sharing a property with them before you sign a contract that would lock you in place for 6-12 months at a time.

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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 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 who work for them. If the situation is really bad then the council can take over the management of the property themselves.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as a guide. Any information should be used for research purposes and not as the base for taking legal action. The Tenants' Voice does not provide legal advice and our content does not constitute a client-solicitor relationship.

We advise all tenants to act respectfully with their landlords and letting agents and seek a peaceful resolution to problems with their rented property. For more information, explore the articles in our HMO category.

The Tenants' Voice works in conjunction with Deposit Recovery Claims to assist tenants.

If you experience problems with your tenancy deposit, have disrepair in your rented property or suspect that your landlord should have a licence to rent your property but does not have one then you can receive a free consultation by calling our advice service: Call Tenant Assist on 0333 344 3788.

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