Special rules apply to letting ‘houses in multiple occupation’ (HMOs) – generally houses let to groups of unrelated people who, typically, have a bedroom each but share all the other rooms. And in England and Wales larger HMOs must be licenced.
(In Scotland all HMOs must be licensed while Northern Ireland has a Statutory Registration Scheme for HMOs capable of occupation by more than 10 people that applies to specified areas).
The Housing Act 2004 (which came into effect in 2006 and 2007 and which applies to England and Wales) says that a house or flat is deemed to be a house in multiple occupation if it is privately let to three or more tenants who form two or more households, and the tenants share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet. This includes houses that have been converted into bedsits or flats with shared facilities and which are let to three or more tenants who form two or more households.
It also covers houses converted into entirely self-contained flats but whose conversion did not meet the 1991 Building Regulations and when completed more than a third have been let out on short term tenancies (building regulations are national rules, separate from planning consent, that have to be complied with in construction or conversions).
Another stipulation is that the property is used solely or mainly to house tenants who use it as their only or main home (accommodation let to students in higher or further education, to asylum seekers and migrant and seasonal workers, and used as a refuge for people escaping domestic violence are all considered to meet this criterion, alongside more conventional full-time renters).
For the purposes of the definition, a ‘household’ is generally a single person or couple (including same-sex couples) and their children or others, such as carers, who are employed by them.
(For the full definition of what in law constitutes an HMO consult the Housing Act 2004 and accompanying notes, available from www.opsi.gov.uk).
Licences and living standards
All HMO properties must meet prescribed standards laid down in the statutory instrument, ‘The Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation and Other Houses (Miscellaneous Provisions) (England) Regulations 2006’ Those that are of three storeys or more, occupied by two or more households comprising a total of five or more people, are required to have a licence issued by the relevant local authority. If they do not do so they could find themselves fined up to £20,000 and unable to collect their rents.
All units of living accommodation in HMOs must be equipped with adequate means of space heating.
Where there are four or fewer occupiers of the HMO and all or some of the units do not contain bath and toilet facilities, there must be at least one bathroom with a fixed bath or shower and a toilet for general use (which may be situated in the bathroom). Where there are five or more occupiers sharing those facilities, there must be one separate toilet with wash hand basin for every five sharing occupiers and at least one bathroom (which may contain a toilet) with a fixed bath or shower for every five sharing occupiers. (In plain English, two general bathrooms are required in a house shared by between six and ten people where the bedrooms are not all en suite. For eleven to 15 there must be three general bathrooms, and so on.) Further, where there are five or more occupiers of an HMO, every unit of living accommodation must contain a wash hand basin with appropriate splash back.
All baths, showers and wash hand basins in an HMO must be equipped with taps providing an adequate supply of cold and constant hot water. All bathrooms must be suitably and adequately heated and ventilated, and all bathrooms and toilets must be of an adequate size and layout and suitably located. All baths, toilets and wash hand basins must be fit for purpose.
If there are not cooking facilities within every living unit, there must be a kitchen for general use, suitably located, suitably equipped and of suitable size. This means, at the very least, sinks with adequate supply of both hot and cold water, draining boards, facilities for cooking food, electrical sockets, worktops for the preparation of food, cupboards for the storage of food and cooking utensils, refrigerators with adequate freezer compartments or separate freezers, appropriate refuse disposal facilities; and appropriate extractor fans, fire blankets and fire doors. Except where there are four or fewer occupants, the manager must also ensure that his or her name, address and any telephone contact number is made available to each household in the HMO; and that such details are clearly displayed in a prominent position in the HMO.
When it comes to management standards, licensed landlords have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that tenants are not causing problems within the boundaries of the property through anti-social behaviour. Local authorities may in some instances put conditions on licences concerned with anti-social behaviour.
Local housing authorities may use their own amenity standards if they are equal to or higher than the minimum standards. This means landlords should contact their local authorities to confirm the standards to be applied in their own areas.
In the case of properties with insufficient amenities for the number of tenants the landlord wishes to house, local authorities will include conditions within licences stipulating that the required extra amenities must be provided within a specific time. Alternatively they may grant licence for lower maximum numbers of occupants. In some instances they may even conclude that a licence cannot be granted until the condition and amenities within a property are improved.
HMO landlords have to ensure there are adequate fire precautions (including alarms, extinguishers and fire blankets) and fire escape routes. These must be well maintained and adequate for the number of residents and the size of the property.
HMOs should be fitted with fire warning systems such as fire alarms and heat or smoke detectors. These should be placed throughout the building but particularly in escape routes and areas of high risk, such as kitchens. The fire warning system should be serviced and checked regularly.
Equipment such as extinguishers and fire blankets should be provided. There should be at least one fire extinguisher on each floor and a fire blanket in every shared kitchen. These have to be checked periodically and the correct sort of extinguisher must be provided.
HMOs should have an escape route that can resist fire, smoke and fumes long enough for everyone to leave (usually at least 30 minutes). This could be an external fire escape, or internal stairs, corridors or walkways that are specially constructed or treated to resist fire. All the walls, ceilings, floors and partitions along the escape route must be fire resistant. All the doors leading to the escape route must be fire resistant and must close automatically.
Landlords should check with their local authority for details of local requirements and HMO licensing arrangements. If a licence is required, it is to the local authority that an application should be made. Landlords are also required to inform ‘relevant persons’ – primarily tenants and any other people with ownership interests in the freehold or leases associated with the building, the mortgage lender and, if using a letting agent or other firm to manage the let, the proposed managing agent – that an application has been made.