Spotlight on: HMOs

Spotlight on HMOs

An HMO is a house in multiple occupation. However, having several people living in a house of which you are the landlord does not make it an HMO.

The vital thing is not the number of people, but the number of households. So if you have three tenants in a building, you don’t necessarily have an HMO. The essential requirement for a house to become a house in multiple occupation is:

  • There are at least three tenants living in the building, and they form more than one household.
  • The tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities.

Any building meeting both of those requirements is an HMO. It becomes a large HMO if the following requirements are met:

  • It is at least three stories high
  • There are at least five tenants living in the building, and they form more than one household
  • The tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities.

The question is: what is a household? A household may be a single person, or it may be members of the same family living in the same place. Now we have to face the question: what is a family? Fortunately, the government has given us a definition of the family. A family includes people who are:

  • married or living together, including people in same-sex relationships
  • relatives or half-relatives, for example grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings
  • step-parents and step-children

You may be wondering why the government’s opinion matters, but if you are the landlord of a large HMO, there are certain obligations that the government imposes on you. The government-imposed regulations are there for a good reason: to reduce fire risks, and ensure the facilities provided by the landlord to people living in shared accommodation are adequate.

Obligations on landlords of homes in multiple occupation (HMO)

Here are some of the things that HMO landlords must comply with: 

  • the property must not be overcrowded (the local council will decide whether too many people live there). This includes a requirement that, even though facilities are shared, the cooking and bathroom facilities must be sufficient for the number of residents; 
  • there must be proper fire safety measures, including working smoke alarms; 
  • gas safety must be checked every year by a registered engineer, and the electrics must be checked every five years; 
  • all shared facilities and communal areas must be clean and in a good state of repair, and the number of rubbish bins must be sufficient.

Are HMOs licensed?

An HMO that is owned or managed by a housing association, a cooperative, a council, a health service, or a police or fire authority does not need to be licensed. The government requires that all other large HMOs be licensed by their local authority. Some councils require all HMOs to be licensed, and some require every private landlord to be licensed, so it is important that you as a landlord are aware of the requirements of your local council.  

If you need to be licensed, you will find that most licences last five years, though there are councils where the licence period is shorter than that. Before issuing or renewing a licence, the council will check: 

  • that the property meets an acceptable standard, is large enough for the number of occupants, and is well managed; 
  • that the landlord is fit to be a landlord. 

Councils maintain a register of licensed HMOs to which anyone can have access, so not licensing an HMO is not an option. Even accidental failure to licence an HMO can have disastrous effects on the landlord, because: 

  • the landlord can be fined and, in addition to the fine may be required to repay up to 12 months’ rent or, if applicable, housing benefit; 
  • if an HMO tenant has an assured shorthold tenancy, a Section 21 notice giving the tenant two months’ notice to leave the property will be invalid if the HMO is not licensed.

A landlord’s responsibility for repairs 

The landlord is responsible for repairs to all communal areas of the HMO and for repairs to: 

  • the exterior and structure, including walls, windows, window frames, and gutters 
  • water and gas pipes 
  • electrical wiring 
  • radiators and other fixed heaters, water heaters, toilets, baths, basins, and sinks. 

Clearly, being an HMO landlord is a hands-on job. Unless you are in a position to respond at any time to any communication from a tenant, it is a good idea to instruct an experienced property managing agent.  

If you are considering an HMO as an investment, or if you already own an HMO and find it difficult to meet the demands of management, call us. An HMO can be a rewarding investment, and we will help you get the best out of it while avoiding the pitfalls. 

Tags: HMOs, Landlords

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ANDREW REEVES - Westminster

81 Rochester Row, Westminster, London SW1P 1LJ
Sales: 02078811310
Lettings: 02078811315


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