What is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)?

The Government’s definition of an HMO is a property where at least three tenants live permanently in more than one household AND they share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities.

In this context, a household is a single person, or a group of people who are related, married or living together (including in same-sex relationships).

HMOs may be configured as bedsits, shared houses, lodgings, hostels or residential homes.

Licensed HMOs

Larger HMOs – which are occupied by five or more people and are three or more storeys high – need to be licensed with your local council. Licenses are usually valid for five years.

Licensed HMOs must have a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) risk assessment done on them by your council within five years of you receiving your HMO licence. You are then required to carry out any remedial works needed to eliminate risks identified.

HMO standards

The law states that you must meet certain standards as a landlord of an HMO to ensure that:

  • Fire safety measures are in place including working smoke alarms (and fire extinguishers in the case of licensed HMOs).
  • Furniture must comply with relevant fire safety laws.
  • Gas safety checks are carried out annually.
  • A professional electrical safety check is done every five years.
  • The property is not overcrowded.
  • There are adequate amenities for the number living there.
  • Communal areas and shared facilities are clean and in good repair.
  • There are enough rubbish bins/bags.
  • The manager of the house (which could be you or an agent whom you appoint) is a ‘fit and proper’ person, which means they should not have a criminal record, or have previously breached any landlord law or code of practice.

The Housing Act stipulates quite a lot of detail behind each of these points, so it’s worth checking the precise rules with your local council, but some of the key areas are covered below:


The required standard for amenities – toilets, personal washing facilities and cooking facilities – changes according to the number of people living in the property. For most amenities the ratio is approximately 1 to 5, e.g. one shower or bath, one kitchen sink, and one four-ring hob and oven with an adjacent fire blanket for every five people living there.

Personal washing facilities should include both hot and cold water.

Each kitchen should include a fridge and freezer, and a sink with an adequate supply of cold drinking water.


All habitable rooms must have an adequate level of natural light but also have electrical lighting. All entrances to the property should be well lit too.


There must be an acceptable means of maintaining habitable rooms at a reasonable temperature.

Tenancy agreements in HMOs

Most landlords of HMOs find it sensible to issue their tenants with a formal, written tenancy agreement. One of the most common forms of these is the ‘room only’ Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST). These should cover everything from keeping pets to arrangements for access, procedures when repairs are required, and responsibility for paying water/sewerage charges and other utility bills.

If you take a deposit, this must be protected under one of the Government’s approved tenancy deposit schemes.

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