Government believes that the private-rented sector plays a valuable and essential role in providing housing. However, the properties in this sector are, on average, in poorer condition than properties in other tenures such as the owner-occupied sector.
Research shows that houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) contain some of the poorest housing conditions and hazards. Government recognise this and have a strategy to improve conditions in these properties. Local authorities offer advice and guidance to landlords on how to comply with their legal obligations as a landlord.
Local authorities are required by law to license houses in multiple occupation that fall within certain categories.
Anyone who owns or manages an HMO that must be licensed has to apply to a local authority for a licence.
If an HMO is required to be licensed, it is a criminal offence to operate the HMO without a licence, and a fine of up to £20,000 may be imposed. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, a tenant living in an HMO that should have been licensed may be able to apply for a rent repayment order, to recover from the landlord the rent they paid during the unlicensed period (up to a maximum of 12 months). Local Authorities are also able to claim back from landlords housing benefit payments made in relation to unlicensed HMOs.
Mandatory licensing of HMOs
Mandatory licensing of HMOs only applies to certain categories of HMO, which are detailed in The Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Descriptions) (England) Order 2006, and include HMOs which satisfy the following conditions:
- The HMO or any part of it comprises three storeys or more
- It is occupied by five or more persons
- It is occupied by persons living in two or more single households
The following storeys shall be taken into account:
- Any basement, attic and mezzanine level if used or constructed wholly or partly as living accommodation
- Where the living accommodation is situated in part of a building above business premises, each storey comprising the business premises
- Where the living accommodation is situated in part of a building below business premises, each storey comprising the business premises
- Any other storey that is used wholly or partly as living accommodation, or in connection with and as an integral part of the HMO