What is a HMO?

HMO stands for Houses in Multiple Occupation, which means a building, or part of a building, such as a flat, that:

Is occupied by more than one household and where more than one household shares – or lacks – an amenity, such as a bathroom, toilet or cooking facilities. 

Is occupied by more than one household and which is a converted building – but not entirely self-contained flats (whether or not some amenities are shared or lacking).

Is converted self-contained flats, but does not meet as a minimum standard the requirements of the 1991 Building Regulation, and at least one third of the flats are occupied under short tenancies.

The building is occupied by more than one household:

As their only or main residence

As a refuge for people escaping domestic violence 

By students during term time

For other purposes prescribed by the government

A household is:

Families (including single people, couples and same sex couples)

Other relationships, such as fostering, carers and domestic staff 

Why does the Government want HMOs to be licensed?

Larger HMOs, such as bedsits and shared houses, often have poorer physical and management standards than other privately rented properties. The people who live in HMOs are amongst the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society. As HMOs are the only housing option for many people, the government recognises that it is vital that they are properly regulated.

Licensing is intended to make sure that:

Landlords of HMOs are fit and proper people, or employ managers who are

Each HMO is suitable for occupation by the number of people allowed under the licence

The standard of management of the HMO is adequate

High risk HMOs can be identified and targeted for improvement

Where landlords refuse to meet these criteria the council can intervene and manage the property so that:

Vulnerable tenants can be protected

HMOs are not overcrowded

Councils can identify and support landlords, especially with regeneration and tackling antisocial behaviour

Do all HMOs have to be licensed?

No. Under the new Housing Act 2004 there are three types of licensing:

1. Mandatory (required by law) licensing of HMOs for properties that are:

  • Three or more storeys high
  • Have five or more people in more than one household, and
  • Share amenities such as bathrooms, toilets and cooking facilities

2. Additional licensing of HMOs

  • A discretionary power that councils may decide to apply to a particular type of HMO, for example, to include an existing registration scheme.

3. Selective licensing of other residential accommodation

  • Properties that are not subject to HMO licensing could be covered under a selective licensing scheme. This is where the council may declare that certain areas, for example, where there is low demand for housing and/or antisocial behaviour, are appropriate for selective licensing. This licensing would cover all forms of private rented housing, including HMOs.

How will it work?

Anyone who owns or manages an HMO that must be licensed has to apply to the council for a licence. The council must give a licence if it is satisfied that:

  • The HMO is reasonably suitable for occupation by the number of people allowed under the licence
  • The proposed licence holder is a fit and proper person
  • The proposed licence holder is the most appropriate person to hold the licence
  • The proposed manager, if there is one, is a ‘fit and proper person’
  • The proposed management arrangements are satisfactory
  • The person involved in the management of the HMO is competent
  • The financial structures for the management are suitable.

Further Information: