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Student housing – living in a house in multiple occupation (HMO)

Students often live in shared houses or flats. Many of these properties are houses in multiple occupation (HMO). If you live in an HMO, your landlord has extra legal responsibilities and may need a licence for the property.

This page outlines some of the key issues that you need to know about if you live in an HMO.

What is an HMO?

There is a complex legal definition setting out what an HMO is. However, in general terms, it is a building where more than one household lives and shares facilities.

A single household is where members of the same family live together, including unmarried couples. For example, if you lived with a friend and a couple that is three households.

Students living in the following types of accommodation are likely to be living in HMOs:

  • a house or flat which is let to three or more people who form two or more households and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet
  • a house converted into bedsits or other forms of non self-contained accommodation, which is let to three or more people who form two or more households.

For a property to be an HMO, it has to be used only or mainly as residential accommodation. It also has to be the occupiers' only or main home, but this includes any students undertaking a full-time course of further or higher education.

Buildings that are not HMOs

Certain buildings occupied by students, such as halls of residence, may be excepted from the definition of an HMO. Halls that are controlled and managed by an educational establishment which has signed up to an approved code of practice cannot be HMOs.

Properties that are managed by local authorities and other social housing landlords, such as housing associations, do not count as HMOs.

What does it mean to live in an HMO?

If you live in an HMO your landlord has to meet extra responsibilities which are in addition to their repair responsibilities. These are on:

  • fire and general safety – mainly the provision of properly working smoke and/or heat detectors with alarms and a safe means of escape in case of fire
  • water supply and drainage – these cannot be unreasonably interrupted and must be kept clean and in good repair
  • gas and electricity – appliances and installations must be safe, which includes arranging an annual gas safety check and having electrical installations checked at least every five years
  • communal areas – such as staircases, halls, corridors and entrances, must be kept in good decorative repair, clean and reasonably free from obstructions  
  • waste disposal – there must be enough bins for rubbish and adequate means of disposing of rubbish
  • living accommodation – the living accommodation and any furniture supplied must be clean and in good repair.

What if your landlord isn't meeting these standards?

If your landlord isn't meeting these standards you could try and speak to them about it. If they don't do anything, you could contact the local authority. It can carry out an inspection and can take enforcement action if the property:

  • poses a risk to your health and safety
  • is poorly managed
  • is unsuitable for the number of people who live there
  • should be licensed but is not.

Before deciding what to do you should check what type of tenancy you have. Many students in private rented accommodation have assured shorthold tenancies and as long as your landlord follows the proper legal process, you can be evicted quite easily. You need to consider that enforcing your rights may antagonise your landlord and could put you at risk of eviction.

Licensing of HMOs

Some HMOs need a licence. Licences are granted by the local authority which also has a duty to keep a register of all HMO licences in its area. The local authority can help you if you want to know if an HMO is licensed.

Which HMOs need a licence?

All larger HMOs must be licensed and this is called mandatory licensing. A HMO needs a licence if it has:

  • three storeys or more, and
  • is occupied by five or more people who form two or more households.

There is also additional licensing. This is where a local authority extends licensing to other types of HMO in its area. You can check with your local authority to see if any such conditions apply to where you live.

Before granting a licence the local authority must be satisfied that:

  • the property is suitable for a certain maximum number of people to live there, and
  • the person holding the licence and the person managing the HMO are fit and proper persons, and
  • the property is managed properly.

What happens if your landlord doesn't have a licence?

If your landlord doesn't have a licence, hasn't applied for one or has not been temporarily exempted from licensing, then:

  • they can be prosecuted and fined up to £20,000
  • they cannot serve a section 21 notice (under the Housing Act 1988), which is the start of a legal process to evict an assured shorthold tenant
  • you may be able to reclaim up to twelve months' worth of rent that you paid during the time that the HMO wasn't licensed. This is called a rent repayment order and an application should be made to the First-tier Tribunal in England or a Residential Property Tribunal in Wales.

  • More about licensing of houses in multiple occupation at www.gov.uk

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