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 large HMOs, how these ensure your safety and what to do if things are not as they should be.
Current Definition of HMO
Under the current law, a standard HMO is defined as a property containing at least three tenants and forming two or more households* with shared toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities.
*Defined as either a single person or members of the same family who live together.
A HMO can be a house divided into bedsits or a shared house or flat, where the tenants are not members of the same family which includes shared student accommodation.
A large HMO is defined under the current law as:
• A building at least three storeys high and
• has at least five or more tenants living there, forming more than one household and
• they share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities.
Currently, a landlord has a duty to apply for a licence for large HMOs through the local council.
The law is about to change
Legislation called “The Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Description) (England) Order 2018” was agreed by parliament in February 2018 and comes into force on 1st October 2018.
This order will change the HMO definition for licensing and will mean that more properties will need to be licenced to protect tenants’ safety.
In future, the following properties will need to be licensed:
• Any property occupied by five or more people forming two or more separate households (this could mean three, two or single storey properties if they fall under this remit).
• Properties converted into bedsits
• Properties above commercial buildings (such as shops or restaurants)
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.
Why is licensing needed?
The law recognises that tenants in large properties are at greater risk of danger from fire and also have special needs because of the size of the building. Licensing is considered necessary to protect tenants.
Therefore, a landlord has extra legal responsibilities if their property is a HMO.
Landlords of HMOs must make sure that:
• proper fire safety measures are in place, including working smoke alarms
• annual gas safety checks are carried out
• electrics are checked every 5 years
• the property is not overcrowded
• there are enough cooking and bathroom facilities for the number living there
• communal areas and shared facilities are clean and in good repair
• there are enough rubbish bins/bags
Once a landlord has a licence, this will usually last for five years but this will depend on the council as some councils will only grant licences for a shorter period.
When applying for a new licence or a renewal, the landlord will need to show that –
• the property meets an acceptable standard. ( whether the property is large enough for the occupants and if it is well managed)
• the landlord is a ‘fit and proper’ person
If the landlord breaches their requirement to licence they can be fined and ordered to repay up to 12 months’ rent.
Tenants may also be able to apply to a tribunal to reclaim some of their rent if the landlord has been prosecuted by the council for running an unlicensed HMO.
If HMO should be licensed but isn’t, assured shorthold tenants cannot be evicted under a section 21 notice. Any notice given by a landlord will not be valid.
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.
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.