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Houses in multiple occupation (HMO)

What is a house in multiple occupation?

Under the Housing Act 2004, the following types of property are all defined as houses in multiple occupation (HMO):

  • An entire house or flat which is let to three or more tenants who form two or more households and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet.
  • A house which has been converted entirely into bedsits or other non-self-contained accommodation and which is let to three or more tenants who form two or more households and who share kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities.
  • A converted house which contains one or more flats, which are not wholly self-contained (i.e. the flat does not contain within it a kitchen, bathroom and toilet) and which is occupied by three or more tenants who form two or more households.
  • A building, which is converted entirely into self-contained flats if the conversion did not meet the standards of the 1991 Building Regulations and more than one-third of the flats, are let on short-term tenancies.

In order to be an HMO, the property must be used as the tenants' only or main residence and it should be used solely or mainly to house tenants. Properties let to students and migrant workers will be treated as their only or main residence and the same will apply to properties, which are used as domestic refuges.

There is a requirement for some types of HMO to be licensed.

If the council is concerned a property is an HMO, an inspection will take place to determine how safe the property is for residing or proposed tenants. One of the most important factors when conducting an inspection is to ensure the property has full fire protection facilities. 

Mandatory licensing laws for HMOs

Since 1 October 2018, the Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) mandatory licensing scheme no longer applies only to properties with three storeys or more, with five or more tenants. 

Under the new regulations, the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Description) (England) Order 2018, it is mandatory for all multi-occupied properties to be licensed where there are:

  • five or more occupants from two or more separate households (families), and
  • where the building is either a converted building with living accommodations, or 
  • one which contains self-contained flats, but not a purpose-built block of flats.

The property no longer has to have three or more floors. Even if the property has one or two floors, but includes five or more occupants (unless they are one family), the landlord will need to apply to their local council for a mandatory HMO licence. 

There are heavy fines for anyone renting these types of premises without the correct licence.

You can view the council's public register of licensed HMOs.

Licence applications and HMO licensing changes

Part 2 of the Housing Act 2004 states local housing authorities must license HMOs in their area if they meet the definition of an HMO as prescribed under section 55 of the 2004 Act.

However, from 1 October 2018, the mandatory licensing requirements changed and they are no longer limited to HMOs that are three or more storeys high, but also include buildings with one or two storeys.

Making an application

In order to make the application process easier for landlords, St Helens Council has an online application and payment process:

Apply here

Definition of a licensable HMO

A licensable HMO can be one, two or more storeys in height; however, it must be occupied by five or more persons, from two or more separate households and who share facilities such as a bathroom, kitchen, toilet or living room.

It may include bedsits, shared houses, non-self-contained flats and some self-contained flats.

Houses fully converted into self-contained flats will not usually be HMOs as long as they were converted following 'appropriate' building regulation standards. As a minimum, this will be the 1991 Building Regulations.

In general, the sole use of the property must be as an HMO. However, the council may 'declare' a property to be an HMO where there is significant usage. A property meeting the above definition will require a five-year licence, which is renewable annually.

HMO standards and enforcement

If you let rooms in a property that qualifies as a HMO, the property must provide a safe, healthy and warm environment for your tenants.

More information about the standards required in various types of HMO can be found below. 

HMO enforcement

The council works within an intervention and enforcement policy framework, which looks to ensure all enforcement procedures, whether formal or informal, are forwarded in an open, helpful, proportionate and consistent manner.

In order to ensure legal compliance, there are specific management regulations, which set out the way in which such a property should be managed.

The government is also planning to produce an approved code of practice describing good management standards.

Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

Houses in multiple occupation pose a greater risk to the health and safety of people living in them. Very often, people who live in HMOs do not know the other people living in the building with them, and the risks of fire and other hazards arise as a result of this.

The Housing Act 2004 provides powers for us to inspect property for Category 1 and 2 hazards. Once inspected, we rate the likelihood that the hazard seen will cause harm to the people living in or visiting the property. To do this, we use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

Our housing inspectors are fully trained and authorised in this procedure and, following their inspection, they will rate any hazard seen and then consider the most appropriate action to take, e.g.

  1. informal action for low-level hazards such as writing to the landlord and listing the problem(s) seen, or
  2. serving formal notice for Category 1 and/or high-level Category 2 hazards stating what the hazard is and how it should be removed. 

Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Some HMOs will need to comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, (often referred to as the RRO or Fire Safety Order). These will typically be houses let as bedsits, hostels and blocks of flats.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force on 1 October 2006. This legislation requires a competent and responsible person, who has a degree of control over the building, to carry out a satisfactory fire risk assessment, and implement and maintain adequate standards of fire safety in the building.

The council inspects properties that it identifies as being a potential House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). If conditions in the properties inspected are not up to standard, the landlord or owner is required to improve them.

Fire safety inspections in an HMO

HMOs pose a greater risk to the health and safety of people living in them. Very often, people who live in HMOs do not know who else lives in the same building with them, and the risks of fire and infection are therefore increased. HMO fire safety is therefore an important part of our inspection and consideration will be given to Lacors fire safety guidance, which states:

  • All HMOs of three storeys or more should have a panel controlled automatic fire alarm and detection system covering all parts of the premises, that is rooms, halls and stairs, kitchens etc.
  • All HMOs of two storeys should have a simpler system, but it should cover the same areas, all rooms, halls and stairs and kitchens. These systems do not have panel control but all the units are linked together so everyone is protected.
  • All self contained flats whether in a converted building or purpose built should have a fire alarm and detection system that covers each individual flat and may also be provided in the stairs and hallways.
  • All rented houses should have at least one smoke alarm positioned on each landing level of the stairs, so a two-storey house would have two alarms.
  • Most houses that are converted into self-contained flats will also require emergency lighting.
  • All fire alarm and detection systems require testing and maintenance.