HMO is a term that is used to define accommodation that is owned by a private landlord and shared among a number of people. The acronym stands for a House in Multiple Occupation. There are a range of different types of accommodation that could fall under this definition, depending on how many people are living there and what the living arrangements are. As a general rule, where there are three or more tenants in a property who make up more than one household with shared toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities, this could be an HMO. This could cover:
- A number of bedsits in one building
- A hostel
- Halls of residence (private)
- A shared house
- A block of converted flats
- Individual shared self contained cluster flats.
Whether you have an HMO normally depends on the number of ‘households,’ which is either members of the same family who are living together (couples, half and step relations for example) or a single person.
HMOs have different standards
Simply because of the larger number of people under one roof, the landlord of an HMO has higher standards to meet. For example:
- Safety – gas safety checks must be carried out every year and electrical system checks every five years. Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms must be fitted.
- Sanitation – ensuring that there are adequate rubbish disposal facilities, bins and bin bags. Providing washing and cooking facilities of a certain standard.
- Facilities – landlords must prevent overcrowding and keep shared and communal areas in a good state of repair.
Living in an HMO
Most people who live in an HMO enjoy the communal aspect of living and you can make some great friends this way, as well as paying lower living costs than you would renting alone. In general, as there are more people in an HMO property, wear and tear can be more intense and so repairs and replacements may be required more often. As with a regular property, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to make repairs to 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). Tenants must notify a landlord when a repair is required but the smaller repairs – such as changing a light bulb – are things that tenants can do.
What’s the difference between an HMO and a non-HMO property?
Perhaps the biggest difference is that HMO tenants can complain to the local council who are more likely to take action than over a non-HMO property. The Environmental Health Department of every local council is responsible for taking up complaints about health and safety in HMOs and has the power to compel landlords to rectify problems. The council can prosecute both the landlord and any managers that they have working for them, and can even take over the management of the property themselves.
Some HMOs require a licence – not all. The licence is obtained from the local authority. It will normally be required where the HMO is at least three storeys high, where there are at least two distinct households (as described above) living there, and in total there are five or more unrelated people living in the HMO building.
A landlord with a property that meets the above requirements must apply for a licence to the local authority that will look at whether they are a ‘fit and proper’ person to be an HMO landlord. They will also look at factors such as the safety features of the property and its size.
If you’re a tenant in a building that could be an HMO then it’s a good idea to check that the landlord has a licence. Those who don’t obtain one when they should can be fined – 12 months rent – and an HMO landlord without a licence (who should have one) cannot use the section 21 notice procedure.