Some of the most vulnerable members of our society reside in HMOs. These individuals often live in properties not originally designed for multiple occupants, leading to heightened risks related to overcrowding and fire hazards. While the government aims to support commendable private landlords offering well-maintained residences, it’s crucial to regulate HMOs judiciously, ensuring the safety and well-being of its occupants.
Mandatory licensing for HMOs was introduced in 2006, targeting properties with three or more storeys housing at least five individuals from two or more separate households. This licensing initiative has been instrumental in elevating standards, making these larger HMOs safer living environments. However, with the growing demand for HMOs over the past decade, there’s been a surge in smaller properties, such as two-storey family homes and flats, being utilised as HMOs. This shift has unfortunately paved the way for unscrupulous landlords to exploit vulnerable tenants by offering subpar, overcrowded, and potentially hazardous accommodations. Moreover, the proliferation of HMOs has occasionally led to community disturbances, particularly when inadequate waste management results in pest infestations and other health and safety concerns.
In response to these challenges, and after comprehensive consultations, measures have been implemented to extend the scope of mandatory HMO licensing. Now, properties in England used as HMOs that accommodate five or more individuals from two or more separate households will, in most instances, necessitate a licence. This move aims to prevent overcrowding, ensure the safety of occupants, and mitigate any negative impacts on local communities. Additionally, clear guidelines have been established regarding the minimum room sizes in HMOs, along with stipulations related to waste disposal in licensed properties.
These measures, in conjunction with the Housing and Planning Act 2016, were encapsulated in the Houses in Multiple Occupation and Residential Property Licensing Reform of 2018 in order to counter rogue landlords. They also align with the enforcement protocols introduced by the Act, which include financial penalty procedures and banning orders.
This document serves as a guide for local authorities and landlords alike, elucidating the requirements introduced in the 2018 statutory instruments concerning the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation.
Expansion of Compulsory HMO Licensing
The 2004 Act’s Part 2 empowers local housing authorities to license Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) that align with the definition set out in section 55 of the Act. The Prescribed Description Order 2018, which replaces the 2006 order, outlines the types of buildings that will be subject to mandatory licensing. Notably, from 1 October 2018, the licensing will extend to HMOs of one or two storeys, not just those with three or more.
For an HMO to be mandatorily licensed, it must house at least five individuals from a minimum of two separate households. The 2018 Order specifies the categories of HMOs subject to this licensing:
HMOs meeting the standard test, which includes buildings where multiple households share or lack basic amenities.
HMOs that fit the self-contained flat test but aren’t purpose-built flats in blocks of three or more.
HMOs that align with the converted building test, which pertains to buildings converted to provide separate living accommodations.
From 1 October 2018, the licensing will also cover buildings with one or two storeys, not just those with three or more. Converted blocks of flats, known as section 257 HMOs, are exempt from mandatory licensing but are subject to management regulations. However, individual flats within these blocks will need a license if they meet the standard test.
Local housing authorities can introduce additional HMO licensing for problematic HMOs not covered by mandatory licensing. They have a duty to ensure compliance with the Housing Act 2004’s Part 1 and to promote the extended licensing regime. Landlords must be aware of the changes and obtain a license by 1 October 2018, or they risk legal repercussions.
Transitional provisions have been established for existing license holders affected by the expanded scope of mandatory licensing. These provisions ensure a smooth transition to the new regime, allowing landlords and local authorities ample time to adjust.
New Mandatory Licence Conditions
The Housing Act of 2004, specifically Section 67(1), empowers local housing authorities to set conditions regarding the management, use, and occupation of a licensed House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). As per Section 67(3), certain conditions are mandatory for inclusion in HMO licences. These mandatory conditions, detailed in Schedule 4 of the 2004 Act, encompass the provision of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, gas safety, and the safety of electrical appliances and furniture. These conditions are applicable to all licensed HMOs, whether under mandatory or additional schemes.
Applicability of New Conditions
Starting from 1 October 2018, the new conditions will be applicable to HMOs that require licensing under Part 2 of the 2004 Act. Existing licences issued prior to this date will remain unaffected until their expiration and subsequent renewal.
Minimum Sleeping Room Sizes
From 1 October 2018, local housing authorities are mandated to set conditions regarding the minimum room size permissible for sleeping in an HMO. Rooms below the specified size cannot be used for sleeping, and communal spaces in other parts of the HMO cannot compensate for rooms below the minimum size. The objective is to reduce overcrowding in smaller HMOs. The standards are akin to those related to overcrowding in the Housing Act 1985, with slight variations.
The stipulated minimum sleeping room floor areas are:
6.51 m^2 for a single person over 10 years of age.
10.22 m^2 for two persons over 10 years of age.
4.64 m^2 for a child under 10 years of age.
Rooms smaller than 4.64 m^2 are prohibited from being used as sleeping quarters. Landlords must notify the local housing authority of any room in the HMO smaller than this size. The measurement criteria exclude areas where the ceiling height is below 1.5m.
Assessment of Minimum Room Size Condition
Local authorities have the discretion to request room size details during a mandatory HMO licence application or to inspect properties. The approach is expected to be resource-efficient and compliant with legal precedents.
Sanctions for Breaching Minimum Room Sizes
Breaching the licence conditions, such as allowing overcrowding or not adhering to minimum room sizes, is an offence. Convictions can result in unlimited fines, or a financial penalty of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution. Temporary arrangements, like occasional overnight visitors, are exempt from these conditions.
Landlords with existing licences under the extended scope of mandatory licensing do not need to reapply until their current licence expires. On renewal, the new conditions will be imposed. Existing licence conditions remain valid until renewal. Local authorities must provide landlords with a grace period of up to 18 months to comply with new room size standards for the first licence granted after 1 October 2018.
From 1 October 2018, local authorities are mandated to impose conditions regarding suitable refuse storage facilities for HMOs. All licensed HMOs must adhere to the local authority’s waste storage and disposal scheme, if one exists. Non-compliance is a breach of the licence and a criminal offence. Local authorities are encouraged to provide a comprehensive waste collection service for HMOs, including student accommodations. Commercial waste charges should not be levied on residential properties.
Whilst this article attempts to summarise the salient criteria outlined in the 2006 and 2018 UK regulations, we advise all investors seeking to invest in existing HMOs or to convert a building to an HMO to engage with an architect and more important the Environmental Health department in the local authority where the HMO will be.