HMO landlords: prepare for new rules

People in a tiny room © Getty Images
The new rules specify minimum space requirements

The government is cracking down on overcrowded house shares. If you’re an HMO landlord, make sure you’re up to date.

Landlords have just weeks to ensure they’re ready for new “houses in multiple occupation” (HMO) rules, which come into effect in England on 1 October.

The new regulations will bring more properties into the category of “multiple occupation housing” – this is where five or more people from two or more separate households live in one property (house shares, in other words). While at present a property is only classed as an HMO if it has three or more storeys, according to the new rules an HMO is a building or a converted flat where tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities. This will mean roughly 160,000 additional properties will require an HMO licence, reckons the Residential Landlords Association. The new rules form part of the government’s attempt to crack down on landlords letting out overcrowded, sub-standard properties.

As well as widening the scope of what constitutes an HMO, the updated legislation adds some new conditions. The first sets out minimum space requirements. Landlords will be prohibited from letting rooms to a single adult where the usable floor space is less than 6.51 square metres (sq m). Rooms occupied by two adults will need to be at least 10.22 sq m, while rooms slept in by children aged ten and below will need to be at least 4.64 sq m. Local councils will have the discretion to require larger room sizes, but they won’t have the power to allow smaller rooms to be occupied.

Where a landlord is found to be letting a room that doesn’t meet the minimum size, local authorities will be able to grant a period of up to 18 months to rectify the situation. If no action is taken in this time, the landlord will be in breach of their licence and could either be prosecuted by the local authority or receive a financial penalty of up to £30,000. Another update is that landlords are now required to provide an “adequate” number of bins. Failure to do so is a breach of the licence and a criminal offence.

In terms of current HMO requirements, landlords must ensure that the manager of the house – either the landlord or an agent – is “fit and proper”, which means no criminal record or history of breaching landlord laws. Landlords must also send the council a copy of their gas-safety certificate each year, install and maintain smoke alarms, and provide safety certificates for all electrical appliances.

To apply for an HMO licence, contact your local council. Licences are valid for five years and you need a separate licence for each HMO you run. Landlords who already hold an HMO licence can continue to let their property until it expires; they will then have to apply for a new licence and make changes to their property so that it meets the new rules.

Licence costs vary from council to council. For example, Cambridge City Council currently charges £580 for a licence for an HMO of up to nine rooms, and £470 for renewing a licence. Croydon Council charges £250 per habitable room, so a licence for a five-bed HMO would cost £1,250.

Landlords face unlimited fines for renting out unlicensed HMOs. Even if the council takes no action, the tenants could apply for a rent-repayment order to reclaim up to 12 months’ rent, and while the property is unlicensed, the landlord cannot use a Section-21 notice to seek possession of the property. Note too that local councils can add other conditions to licences, such as improving facilities.