HMO – What Is It?

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‘What is an HMO?’ is a question that both tenants looking for dwelling options and landlords interested in investing in properties may ask. This resource will answer that question and explain how HMOs are different from other rental properties.

What is an HMO?

HMO means a ‘House in Multiple Occupation.’ HMOs are residential properties occupied by at least three tenants not belonging to a family, who share common areas or facilities like a kitchen, bathroom, toilet, stairwells, etc.

HMOs include different types of accommodation, which may include the following (though the list isn’t limited to them):

  • Lodgings
  • Shared houses
  • Hostels
  • Buildings having multiple bedsits or rooms with some shared facilities
  • Refuges
  • Employee accommodation
  • Buildings having flats equipped with their own facilities though they aren’t self-sufficient
  • Blocks of converted flats
  • Private halls of residence

When is a property deemed to be an HMO?

Properties must possess the following four common features to be deemed an HMO:

  • Occupants aren’t part of a solitary household (which means they aren’t family members staying together or a single individual living alone)
  • The lodging is used exclusively for residential purposes
  • Occupants are using the property as their chief or only residence
  • Rent is paid by at least one of the occupants (or his/her employer pays it on his/her behalf)

Though these common features apply to individual flats, different rules will be applicable when considering the entire blocks of converted flats. For a property to be legally classified as an HMO, all the conditions stated above must be fulfilled unless the local authority has made an HMO declaration.

Difference between HMOs and other rental properties

Local authorities are very serious about HMOs’ health and safety standards. Thus, if a tenant has any grievance related to these areas, they are likely to be acted upon if the tenant brings them to the notice of his/her TLO (Tenant Liaison Officer).

Local councils (particularly the department of environmental health) will hear the tenant’s complaints and ask landlords to deal with any issues they believe to be below par. Failure to comply could lead to the prosecution of landlords. Some extreme cases could even see the council taking over the HMO’s managerial duties.

What standards does an HMO need to maintain?

As the previous section mentioned, HMO landlords need to stay responsive about any health and safety issues to comply with their local authority’s rules and regulations.

If you’re managing an HMO, some key things to remember are:

  • Conducting annual checks for gas safety
  • Conduct annual checks (i.e., checks every year) for electrical safety
  • Fitting and maintaining carbon monoxide and smoke alarms for fire safety
  • Providing rubbish disposal facilities
  • Providing and maintaining sufficient cleaning, cooking, and washing facilities
  • Handling overcrowding issues
  • Keeping the communal areas clean and clear

Licensing – do all HMOs need it?

The brief answer is – no, they don’t.

Usually, licensing is needed for HMOs that are deemed to be large HMOs. According to gov.uk’s Private Renting section, a Large HMO is:

  • one that houses a minimum of 5 tenants who form more than one household
  • a building that’s 3 storeys high – at the least
  • one where the occupants (all or some) share facilities such as toilet, bathroom, or kitchen

If you aren’t sure whether your property is an HMO or not, you should seek help from your local authority.

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