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What Is A House In Multiple Occupation (An HMO)?

Can you give me any general idea of what sort of properties are HMOs:-

Any of the following properties are likely to be houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) –

  • Bedsits
  • Shared houses
  • Lodgings
  • Hostels.
  • Individual shared self-contained flats/cluster flats
  • Blocks of converted flats
  • Halls of residence (privately operated)
  • Asylum seeker/migrant accommodation
  • Accommodation for workers/employees
  • Refuges

What is the significance of a property being an HMO?

Special legislation applies and the property may need to be licensed by the Council.

Do all HMOs need a licence?

No – the most important point to make is that although a property may fall within the definition of a HMO, it does not automatically follow that it must be licensed. There is a wider definition of what is a HMO which this section deals with and a narrower definition of licensable HMOs. However, before you consider whether a property can require a license, it must be an HMO in the first place. Just because it falls within the general definition of an HMO, it does not automatically follow that a licence is required. Licensable HMOs are a sub division of this general definition.

Why do I need to decide whether a particular property is an HMO or not and what are the consequences?

Under the new legislation contained in the Housing Act 2004, there is a new definition of what is House in Multiple Occupation. The main change is that shared houses (such as student shared houses) now become HMOs. Although special legislation applies to properties which are HMOs, not all HMOs have to be licensed. Only those larger HMOs (3-storeys or more with 5 or more occupants) require a Mandatory HMO Licence. Local authorities have power to impose Additional HMO Licensing on other types of HMOs. As yet there are no areas designated for additional HMO licensing anywhere in the Country. This section is designed to help you decide whether or not a property is an HMO. There is a separate section dealing with those HMOs which require Mandatory HMO Licences and those where Additional HMO Licensing applies. There are also provisions for those properties which were registered under HMO registration schemes under the old legislation. These are dealt with in a separate section on what is known as Transitional/Deemed Additional Licensing.

Some properties which would otherwise be HMOs are exempt and these are dealt with under the section relating to Exemptions. To repeat, therefore, this section is simply about what property is an HMO in the first place; not about licensing.

Are there any exemptions?

Yes – there are a number of Exemptions and where these apply, the property is not a HMO at all (although it will still be subject to the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System regime). If you refer to the section on Exemptions these are listed out and explained in detail.

What about flats?

Special provisions are made for converted flats. A block of converted self contained flats will not require a mandatory HMO licence. Although they can be HMOs, they will not be licensable, unless an Additional HMO Licensing scheme applies. A block of purpose built flats cannot be an HMO at all as a block. However, individual flats (because they are shared/cluster flats) within the block (whether it is purpose built or converted) can still fall within the definition of a HMO. Individual flats can be licensable in some limited situations. There is a separate section which deals with blocks of Flats in order to answer your questions about them.

Is the number of occupants relevant to decide whether a property is a HMO or not?

Yes - Any building, or part of a building, which is occupied only by two persons cannot be a HMO even though those two persons are unrelated. Therefore, for premises to be a HMO there must be at least three persons involved. This is a different number than that which applies to Mandatory HMO Licencing where there must be at least 5 occupiers.

Is there any simple rule of thumb which might help me to identify a HMO?

If you have any type of living accommodation, including a self-contained flat, and there is a sharing of a toilet, washing facilities or cooking facilities by three or more unrelated people in two or more separate households, then potentially the property will be an HMO in this situation. One individual only can form a household for these purposes. In addition, there are specific provisions which mean that converted blocks/buildings, (e.g., converted blocks of self contained flats or mixed accommodation where there is a mixture of self-contained and non-self-contained units), can be a HMO. You do not, always need a sharing of washing facilities, kitchen facilities or toilet facilities for there to be a HMO. If there are at least three unrelated people involved, then the property could be a HMO.

What happens if the property is an HMO but is not licensable?

A number of requirements still apply and these are set out in the section on Non-Licensable HMOs. At the moment, we are simply looking at whether a property is an HMO in the first place; not whether it needs a licence.

Is there a difference between a building or a house as a whole and the individual units of accommodations within it?

Yes – when deciding whether the premises are an HMO, you have to draw a distinction between the house or building as a whole on the one hand and any individual units of accommodation within it, whether these units are self-contained or not self-contained. The building/house as a whole may be a HMO (whether or not it is licensable) but the individual units within it may not individually be HMOs. On the other hand, the building as a whole (especially if it is purpose built flats) may not be a HMO even though individual self-contained flats within it are HMOs.

Do I have to look at the building as a whole or can you just look at individual parts of the building?

You may have to do both. The best way is to start with the building as a whole. Normally you will need to start looking at the building as a whole to see if it is an HMO or not. If the building as a whole is a shared house or bedsits/other non self contained units it could be an HMO there is a sharing of amenities (or there has been a conversion). Certain other features must also be present; These are listed out under Common Features of an HMO.

That is as far as you need to go with shared houses and bedsits (or other non self contained accommodation). You do not need to look then at individual parts.

There may sometimes be good reason to look at part only of a building (e.g. the residential part of a mixed commercial/residential building). If there are any self contained flats within the building you must also check whether or not any of them are HMOs on an individual basis.

Under the legislation, to decide whether or not a property is an HMO, you have to start by deciding what is the building or unit that you are looking at. As indicated in answer to the last question sometimes you have to look at part of a building only. You must also look at any self-contained flat within the building. As already explained, this means that the building as a whole may be an HMO but individual self contained flats in it may not be or vice versa. You could have a situation where an individual rented flat in a block is an HMO but not the block of flats as a whole. Also, it means that in a multi use building, where there is both residential and commercial accommodation, you just have to look at the residential part. Other buildings may be more complex e.g where you have an attached annex. The main building and the Annex may need to be looked at separately.

Do I start with the building in deciding whether or not the property is an HMO?

Yes - The first thing you need to decide is what is the building. This is the starting point the unit you are looking at is. Building is not defined by the legislation, but it presumably means essentially four walls and a roof.

What about terraced properties/semi-detached property?

Each individual property within the terrace or each individual semi-detached house will normally be a separate building but if that is an internal link (e.g., a linking door) then the position may be more complex. If both houses are owned by the same person they may be treated as one.

What about larger/complex buildings?

As we already established, under the legislation you may have to look at part only of a building. This can be an HMO in its own right. There is no guidance in the legislation to which you have to look at part only of the Building. It will depend on the circumstances.

Will it make a difference if there is a self-contained basement flat with a bedsit, house or a shared house above?

In the past, in this situation, the basement has not been treated as part of the HMO, at least if it had a separate entrance. However, the new legislation is not entirely clear on this point and it may well now be treated as part of the whole building so that all of it will then be an HMO including the basement flat. This is the Government’s view. You could, however, argue that it should not be treated as being part of the HMO, especially if it is occupied by a single person/couple and has its own independent entrance.

If there is a self-contained attic/top floor flat about bedsits/shared house, will this be part of the HMO?

Yes, it is likely to be especially as the flat will have a common access with the other units.

I have heard that there are a number of tests to decide whether or not a property is an HMO, is this right?

Yes. Again we are talking about whether or not the Property is an HMO in the first place and not whether a licence is needed or not. You have to first decide if the accommodation is an HMO and then go on to look at whether it needs an HMO licence. Under the Housing Act, there are five separate tests to decide if premises are an HMO. If the Property in question falls within any one of these tests, they will be treated as an HMO, unless one of the Exemptions applies. These tests are as follows:-

  1. The standard test (based on sharing of the basic amenities i.e. kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities or a lack of any of these facilities)
  2. Self-contained flat test – this only applies to decide whether an individual self-contained flat (purpose built or converted) is an HMO
  3. The converted building test – this applies to a converted building which has one or more units of non self-contained accommodation in it whether or not it also has self-contained units within it. There does not need to be a sharing of facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens or toilets for this test to apply.
  4. A HMO Direction. This is a specific order made the local authority designating mixed premises (e.g., hotel or guest house) as an HMO. It is unlikely that the situation will apply very often.
  5. Converted blocks of flats which do not comply with modern building regulations requirements where more than a third of the flats are rented out. This is explained in the section dealing with Flats. This relates only to blocks of converted flats but individual flats can be HMOs under the Self Contained Flat Test.

Note: These first three tests all have certain Common Features which must be present. If any of them do not apply then (unless a HMO Direction is in place) the property will not be an HMO.

You have mentioned self-contained flats a number of times. What is a self-contained flat for these purposes?

A self-contained flat means a separate set of premises. It does not have to be on the same floor (e.g. it can be a maisonette). It must form part only of a building as one would expect. It is dependent on a horizontal division of the building. The whole of the flat (or a material part) must lie above or below some other part of the same building. The premises must have all three basic amenities, (i.e.. a toilet, personal washing facilities and cooking facilities) available for the exclusive use of its occupants. Although it is not entirely clear, it is likely that this means that all of the premises must be behind the same front door. If different rooms are separated by a common corridor, then even though those rooms may be exclusively occupied by the same person(s) they may well not be self-contained flat for these purposes.

Does there have to be a sharing of amenities for the property to be an HMO?

Not necessarily. It depends upon the type of accommodation. In some situations, the property will only be an HMO if at least one of the basic amenities are shared (or are lacking). In other words, if there was any sharing of at least one of the washing facilities, toilet facilities or kitchen facilities by two or more households, then it would be an HMO. A single person can be a household for these purposes. At least one of these amenities must be shared in this way, where you are looking at the case of accommodation such as an individual self contained flat or a shared house. However, this is not always necessary. The sharing of these amenities is not required for the property to be an HMO where the building consists of a number of units which have been converted. This means that if there are bedsits or other non-self-contained accommodation (whether or not there are self-contained flats as well in the same building) the sharing of amenities is not essential for the property to be treated as an HMO.

Are there any common features which must apply before a property is treated as an HMO (whether I am looking at a block/house as a whole or an individual unit) ?

Yes, to be an HMO the following 4 common factors must all apply. However, the position is different for deciding whether converted blocks of self contained flats are HMOs and these common features do not apply in that situation.

The common features are:-

  1. The living accommodation must be occupied by individuals who are not a single household. In other words, they will be people who are not a family or in some other special relationship. For more information on this, see Households.
  2. The living accommodation must be occupied so that it is (a) all the occupiers only or main residence; or (b) the occupiers are undertaking full time course/s of further/higher education; or (c) it is a refuge; or (d) the occupiers are migrant workers, seasonal workers or asylum seekers. Everyone residing at the property must fall into at least one of these categories.
  3. The accommodation is only used for the purpose of living accommodation see Residential Use (or there is an HMO declaration in force).
  4. At least one of the occupiers must be paying rent (or providing some other consideration for living there, e.g. working for the landlord and receiving accommodation in return) see Rent And Occupation.
  5. NOTES:
    (1) Different rules apply where the building as a whole solely consists of converted self-contained flats and there is no other kind of accommodation in the building. In this situation, the above rules should be disregarded. See the section on Flats.
    (2) These requirements apply whether you are considering the building as a whole or just looking at one unit in it.

I have looked at the building/house as a whole and now I want to look at individual units of accommodation

If the property is a single unit (such as a shared house or an individual bedsit) or some other non self contained unit in a house/block it will be then it makes no difference as it will all be one HMO. On the other hand if there are self contained flats you must look to see if any of them individually are HMOs. If it is occupied by at least 3 people who are not one single Household because they are not all related (or in the other specific relationships) the individual flat will be an HMO in its own right so long as all the Common Features are applicable. The same applies to a cluster flat such as in student accommodation.

Within the single unit there must be sharing of a kitchen, bathroom or toilet in the flat but only one of these need be shared. It does not matter whether the individual flat is a purpose built or a converted block. Although the block as a whole may not be an HMO the individual flat can be.

I am concerned with a building with a mixture of self contained and non self contained units. What is the situation with the individual units in this type of accommodation?

Individual self contained flats may be HMOs in their own right e.g. because 3 unrelated individuals are sharing the flat. On the other hand it may not be if it is occupied by 1 or 2 people or a couple/family. If any of the units have resulted from a conversion (i.e. it has happened since the building was originally constructed) the whole building could be an HMO (including any self contained flats) whether or not they are individually HMOs. In this case even those self contained flats which are not individually HMOs will be treated as part of the HMO as a whole. There does not need to be a sharing of facilities. There may be a case for arguing that a self contained basement flat with a separate entrance should not be treated as part of the HMO especially if it is not an HMO in its own right as an individual unit but the position is far from clear. The flat may still be part of the HMO.

What about other types of properties?

So far we have only dealt with the common situations. Accommodation such as hostels, accommodation for workers, asylum seekers, dormitory type accommodation and the like would also be HMOs so long as it only or main residence of the occupiers or treated as such because it is occupied by migrant workers, seasonal workers or asylum seekers or the occupiers are in full time education. See the Common Features of an HMO. There will be no single household and if there are three or more occupants involved who share at least one of the amenities (i.e., kitchen, bathroom or toilet) then the property will be an HMO. Alternatively, if the accommodation has been converted and consists of non-self-contained units (whether or not there are also self contained flats), it will be an HMO, even if there is no sharing of these amenities.

Will a student/nursing hall of residents/hostel be an HMO?

Possibly. They could well be exempt if they are provided by a university or hospital authorities (or other public bodies). See the Exemptions. However, if they are not exempt (e.g. because they are privately operated) then the whole building may be an HMO. If the building is purpose built or converted, then so long as the Common Features apply then if there is a sharing of one or more of the basic amenities, (i.e., bathroom, toilet or kitchen) it will be an HMO. If it comprises all self-contained flats, then see section on Flats. If any of the units within the building are not self-contained flats, then if it is a converted building it would be an HMO without any sharing of the amenities.

If a landlady lets out lodgings can this be an HMO?

Yes – Traditionally, lodgings have been provided by a resident landlord/landlady who lets out rooms; often providing meals. Sometimes this type of accommodation is occupied by workers and if they are not migrants/seasonal workers but have a home elsewhere (e.g. because they go home to their partner/children at the weekends) then the main residence test will not be fulfilled. On the other hand, if the lodgings are let out as an individual’s main residence, or where it is treated as a main residence (i.e., full time education, migrant or seasonal workers or asylum seekers) then if there are three or more lodgers, on this basis the property will be an HMO assuming that there is a sharing of one or more of the basic amenities (i.e, bathroom, kitchen or toilet). If you have three such persons occupying the property where this accommodation is on three storeys or more, and you have two others such as a husband and wife living on the premises, it would need to be a licensed HMO. If there are only two lodgers living with a family it will be exempt from being an HMO.

Can a Guest House/Private Hotel be a HMO?

Some guest houses and similar establishments provide longer-term accommodation. If the residents live there on the basis the property is their only or main residence (or they are in full-time education, migrant or seasonal workers or asylum seekers) then this property may be an HMO. This is likely to be the situation where one encounters an HMO declaration. Normally, occupation of living accommodation must be the only use of the accommodation. This will not be the case where the accommodation is also let out to short term guests. In this case one of the Common Features required is not present and the property will not be an HMO. However, this is where local authority can impose an HMO declaration then the property is treated as an HMO.

This document was last updated on: 17/05/2007

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IMPORTANT: Our website (including the Unique Property Selector) can only give general guidance. You always need to specifically check the status of any property individually and take appropriate advice including general guidance from the local authority where it is located.