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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Houses with multiple private tenants - standards and landlord obligations

If you rent rooms or flats within a single property to a number of tenants it may be considered a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). Find out how to manage HMOs so that they meet the required standards for tenants, including health, safety and welfare.

What is an HMO?

A property is an HMO if it is let as a main or only home to at least three tenants, who form more than one household and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet.

A household consists of either a single person or members of the same family who live together, including:

  • people who are married or living together
  • people in same-sex relationships
  • relatives who are living together - including step-children, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins and foster children
  • certain live-in domestic staff such as au pairs, nannies, nurses or other carers, gardeners, chauffeurs, servants (if certain conditions are met)

If you are a tenant in shared accommodation, you may live in an HMO. These properties can be an entire house, flat or converted building or any of the following:

  • bedsits
  • shared houses
  • households with a lodger
  • purpose-built HMOs
  • hostels
  • guesthouses - if rented out of season
  • bed and breakfasts providing accommodation for homeless people
  • some types of self-contained flats converted from houses

Does an HMO need a licence?

An HMO must have a licence if they are:

  • of three or more storeys
  • occupied by five or more persons who form more than one household

A local council can also include other types of HMOs for licensing. You must apply for an HMO licence if one is required, and meet the terms and conditions of the licence.

Landlord responsibilities for health and safety in HMOs

You must make sure your HMO is properly maintained and meets health and safety requirements at all times. You must:

  • give your contact details to your tenants
  • keep fire escapes clear and maintain fire fighting equipment and alarms
  • ensure that the property design and structure will not cause any injury
  • provide adequate, uninterrupted water supply and drainage
  • provide adequate supply of gas (if any) and electricity
  • check annual gas safety certification (if gas is supplied) and electricity safety every five years
  • keep the property and any shared gardens in good repair
  • provide suitable rubbish disposal

The local authority has to carry out a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) risk assessment on your HMO within five years of receiving a licence application. You must also carry out any works that are required as the result of a safety inspection.

What your obligations are as a landlord

You must meet the required standards for tenancy agreements, ending tenancies, protecting tenants' deposits and respecting a tenant's rights.

Tenancy agreements

You must provide clear written tenancy agreements, which cover:

  • water and sewerage charges
  • other utility bills
  • arrangements for access and procedures for carrying out repairs
  • keeping pets

Tenancy Deposit Scheme

If you are letting your property under an assured shorthold tenancy, you must protect your tenant's deposit using one of the three government-approved tenancy deposit schemes. You must tell your tenant how their deposits are protected, within 14 days of receiving their money.

When a tenancy ends, you must return the deposit to your tenant unless you think your tenant owes you money, for example because of unpaid rent or damage the tenant has caused to your property. In those circumstances you should try to agree with your tenant how much deposit will be returned to them.

Ending a tenancy

In order to legally remove a tenant, you need to follow the correct legal procedures for the type of tenancy in place. 

Other obligations as a landlord

You also have other obligations, including:

  • providing tenants with a written statement of your name and address, within 21 days of being asked for this
  • providing tenants with a rent book which gives your name and address, the nature of the tenancy and the amount of rent to be paid
  • giving tenants 24 hours' written notice that you intend to enter the property to inspect its condition

You may be penalised by the local authority if you don't meet your obligations.

When changes happen to an HMO

As a landlord, you should be aware that the circumstances at your HMO might change in any of the following ways:

  • the house is no longer in multiple occupation
  • your tenant has allowed more people to live there than the HMO licence allows
  • the licence holder is no longer suitable - fit and proper - to hold a licence
  • the management is no longer suitable to manage an HMO
  • you want to change the HMO licence holder
  • the HMO is no longer suitable to be considered an HMO
  • you want to change the HMO to occupation by a single household
  • you want to sell the property

Some of these changes may be the result of local authority decisions. Others may happen because of decisions taken by you or your tenants.

If you plan to make changes then you must tell the local authority. It may need to change the conditions of your licence, cancel it, or give you a different type of licence.

If the changes you plan to make affect your licence conditions, you can apply to your local authority to change your licence conditions.  You can do this using the form called 'Proposal for a variation of existing HMO licence conditions by consent' and you may need to pay an application fee. The form should include:

  • details of the licence condition which needs to change
  • how and why this change needs to be made

Sometimes your tenants may make changes or their circumstances may change that mean the HMO licence terms will be broken (eg a tenant has a child and too many people live in the house). If this happens, you should work out with them a way to make sure that the property meets the conditions of the licence. If you and the tenant cannot work out a solution, you must contact your local authority to explain the difficulty. 

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