Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)

The Housing Act 2004 placed a statutory duty on local authorities to licence larger higher risk houses of multiple occupation.  The mandatory houses of multiple occupation licensing regime addresses poor management practices and aims to secure a reduction in death and injury from fire and other health and safety hazards, and ensures adequate provision of amenities.  In most local authorities, the responsibility for inspection and licensing of HMOs falls to environmental health practitioners.  

The definition of an HMO in the Housing Act 2004 is complex, but can be summarised as a building (or part of a building) which includes more than one unit of accommodation, and in which the occupiers share basic amenities. The building must be the main residence of the occupiers and they must pay rent (or equivalent).

The CIEH has defined six categories of HMOs:

  1. Houses divided into flats or bedsits where some amenities are shared
  2. Houses occupied on a shared basis where occupiers have rooms of their own
  3. Lodging accommodation where resident landlords let rooms
  4. Hostels, lodging houses, and bed and breakfast hotels
  5. Registered residential hotels
  6. Self contained flats with common parts such as stairways

Most HMOs are in the private rented sector, and provide an important source of accommodation for low income households. Unfortunately, some of the worst housing conditions are to be found in HMOs, including disrepair, inadequate means of escape from fire, lack of basic amenities and unsatisfactory management of such properties.

The number of HMOs has steadily risen since the Act was passed, with a noted acceleration in numbers since the financial crisis of 2008.  The Government, in reply to a Parliamentary Question in March 2014 estimated that the number of HMOs has risen from 381,361 in 2003-4 to 462,693 in 2012-13.   
In addition to licensing powers, local authorities are responsible for the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, which provides a risk based evaluation tool for local authorities to identify and protect against potential risks and hazards to health and safety from any deficiencies identified in dwellings.

Local authorities concerned about the number of houses of multiple occupation in their area may issue an Article 4 Direction under the Town and Country Planning Act (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. The effect of issuing an Article 4 Direction is that planning permission must be sought before converting a single use dwelling into an HMO.

HMOs need to be properly managed; problems can occur in common areas, and where facilities are shared but no individual tenant has overall responsibility.

The Housing Act 2004 introduced a mandatory national system of licensing for all HMOs of three storeys or more and five or more occupants. HMO licences last for five years.  Local housing authorities (LHAs) are able to apply to the Secretary of State to extend HMO licensing to other types of HMOs or to specific areas, under certain conditions; this is known as Additional Licensing.  The Act requires LHAs to carry out a survey using the HHSRS within 5 years of the issue of a licence, in order to check whether there are any hazards present which should be dealt with under the rating system.


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