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Tenants’ Guide to HMOs: What You Need to Know

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Even if you aren’t new to the renting scene, many of us have the same question, what is a HMO? 

HMO stands for House in Multiple Occupation, used to describe private rented accommodation shared by a number of people, owned by a landlord. 

Many types of property fall under this term. 

From general rules to landlord responsibilities, here’s everything you need to know.

What is a HMO Property?

The property you live in is a HMO if:

  • 3 tenants (or more) live there, who make up more than one household
  • You share a toilet, bathroom or kitchen 
  • You rent from a private landlord

This could cover a shared house/flat, block of converted flats, hostel, private halls of residence, or a house split into separate bedsits – to name just a few examples. 

The same criteria as above applies to a large HMO is, except this will be where 5 (or more) tenants live, forming more than one household.

What is a Household?

A household is one person, or members all of the same family who live together, such as:

  • Relatives (or half-relatives) 
  • Step-parents and step-children
  • Those in relationships (married or living together)

How to Find Out If You Live in a HMO

Still unsure if you live in a HMO? To find out, ask your local council.

Extra Responsibilities for HMO Landlords

If you live in a HMO, it’s important you’re aware that your landlord will have some extra responsibilities. They have much higher standards to meet. This is because more people from different households live under one roof. 

Know your rights as a tenant. Your landlord must:

  • Make sure that shared facilities and areas are in a good condition
  • Carry out annual gas safety checks and provide you with a certificate 
  • Put proper safety measures in place e.g. smoke alarms
  • Ensure the property isn’t overcrowded
  • Make sure there are enough cooking & bathroom facilities for the number of tenants
  • Check the electrics every 5 years
  • Ensure there are enough rubbish disposal facilities e.g. bins
  • Keep washing and cooking facilities to a certain standard

Legal Protection for HMO Tenants

These extra responsibilities are in place to protect all tenants, for example reducing the risk of fire or ensuring adequate facilities. 

Right to Rent

HMO landlords must ensure right to rent checks are carried out on all new tenants. 

You’ll likely find they carry out other checks too, including credit checks. Renting with bad credit can be hard, so ensure you check your credit score.

Check Your Credit Score

You can achieve financial health more easily with Canopy, who make it easier to rent a home, by verifying income and providing a tenant ‘passport’.

Other Requirements 

HMO landlords must meet certain requirements when it comes to bedrooms sizes too:

  • 4.64 square metres for a child under 10 
  • 6.51 square metres for a person aged 10 (or above)
  • 10.22 square metres for 2 people aged 10 (or above)

What’s the Difference Between a HMO and Non-HMO?

HMO tenants can complain to their local council if certain standards aren’t being met. The council will likely take action. Landlords can be forced to deal with health and safety problems or issues. If not dealt with, they can prosecute landlords and even take over management of the property.

What is a HMO licence?

Your landlord must have a licence if there are 5 or more people living in the property, or there are 2 or more separate households in it. The property will usually have to be over 3 storeys high also.

However, this can change depending on the council. Some require all landlords to get one, not just those who own a large HMO.

Note, only private landlords need a license, not a housing association, for example. Before a license is issued the landlord will be checked by the council to ensure they meet certain standards and criteria. 

As the tenant, it’s important you check if your landlord has a license. If they don’t, they should be fined, and you’ll be able to reclaim some of your rent for living in an unlicensed HMO. They won’t be able to serve a section 21 eviction notice to vacate

How Can You Complain About a HMO Landlord?

Get in touch with the environmental health department of your local council to make a complaint. This is why it’s essential to know the rules, so you’ll know if they’re being broken. Your safety living in a priority is a top priority, so ensure issues are dealt with.

The council will use the health and safety standards for rented homes (HHSRS) to assess your living conditions and look for specific hazards. It also allows them to take action against landlords whose properties aren’t fit for purpose. 

Why a HMO?

There are a number of benefits to living in a HMO, which is why they appeal to many. 

  1. The communal/social aspect of a shared house
  2. Extra protection
  3. Often, rent can be cheaper as it’s shared by more people

More people living in a property sometimes means more wear and tear. But, it’s your responsibility as the tenant to inform your landlord of any issues that need repairing. 

How Does COVID-19 Affect HMOs?

Live in a HMO? Ensure that everyone in the property follows current guidelines around staying at home and social distancing. You will count as one household in terms of the rules, so make sure you behave in this way. Reduce the risk of spread through regular cleaning, paying particular attention to communal areas.

Those who are shielding or isolating should spend as little time as possible in shared spaces.

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Last Updated: January 25th, 2024

Phil Spencer

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