We often see many students make the natural move away from student halls in their first year towards a shared house with friends in the second and third years.  Many find this is a much more relaxed, independent way of living.

You may find yourself living in a “House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)” and if so, it’s important to know the legal duties placed on your landlord when it comes to licensing HMOs, how these ensure your safety and what to do if things are not as they should be.

Types of licencing

Nearly all student houses will be HMOs.  Any property with 3 or more unrelated tenants living there, constitutes an HMO.  This applies whether you are a tenant, unemployed, or in work.  Once a property is an HMO, whether it needs a licence or not, there are additional requirements that the landlord has to meet, mainly on issues relating to tenant safety.

Some properties are ‘mandatory’ HMOs.  These are properties where there are 5 or more unrelated tenants living there.  In this instance, the landlord will have to obtain an HMO licence from the local authority.

However, many local authorities have extended the licencing requirements far beyond the bare minimum of the mandatory type HMO.  In many cases they have introduced ‘selective licencing or ‘additional licencing’.  You should check with our local authority but where this has happened, they may have made it a requirement to licence all private rented property irrespective of the type or size.  A good example of this is Nottingham, where there is a city-wide licencing regime.

This is a complex area of law but it is there to raise standards and protect tenants.

Where landlords fail to obtain a licence, there are severe financial penalties and tenants can obtain a Rent Repayment Order which forces the landlord to refund your rent.


Most university halls of residence and other types of student accommodation which have signed up to an approved code of practice are not defined in the legislation as HMOs.
Properties that are managed by local authorities and other social housing landlords, such as housing associations also do not count as HMOs.

Complaints about the property

Tenants have the right to complain to the council if they are not happy with the property.

The Council are responsible for enforcing HMO standards and has the right to carry out an assessment using what’s called the Housing Health Safety Rating System.
If the Council feel that the property is not safe or fit to live in, they can force a landlord to take action to correct any problems.

The council can prosecute landlords of HMOs, or any manager they have employed, if they break the law. In extreme cases, the council can take over the management of the property.

Further help

If you need more advice, support or information, contact your local council or your University or Students’ Union adviser who will help you deal with any issue you may have.

Reviewed 05.11.2023

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