How Will New HMO Rules Affect UK Landlords?

What is an HMO?

New Government rules regarding HMO licensing came into force in England on 1 October 2018. What do the extended rules mean for the UK's buy to let landlords?

An HMO is a 'house of multiple occupancy'. The UK Government describes an HMO as “a property rented out by at least three people who are not from one ‘household’ (e.g. a family), but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. It’s sometimes called a ‘house share’.”

HMOs can help a landlord to reduce the risk of a completely empty property, and therefore mitigate the impact of a tenant moving out, as rent comes in from multiple parties.

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Why are HMOs used?

Generally, HMOs tend to offer tenants a cheaper rental option, as they are not renting the whole property, just a bedroom with shared use facilities. This can make an HMO attractive to would-be tenants, particularly for people in London, where rental prices are typically higher than elsewhere and demand for rental homes is also consistently high.

HMO properties typically deliver higher yields than other types of rental property. For example, a four-bedroom house, rented out to a family, might attract a monthly rent of £1,000. Whereas, the same property, if converted into an HMO, might achieve four separate rents of £350 a month each (for example), totalling £1,400.

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Who needs a licence to be an HMO landlord?

Until 1 October 2018, landlords operating an HMO were subject to the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Descriptions) (England) Order 2006 (2006/371), which is applied in certain regions of England and Wales.

Local authorities set the cost of obtaining such a licence.

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What are HMO licenses?

There are three types of HMO license:

Mandatory licensing for large HMOs

This type of licensing is relevant across the country.

According to the Government, a large HMO is a property rented to five or more people, who form more than one household. The property will be at least three storeys high and tenants will share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities.

However, depending on where you live, your local authority may also require you to obtain a licence, even if your property does not meet the large HMO criteria.

Additional licensing

Local councils have the authority to introduce additional licensing under Part II of the Housing Act 2004, but can only do so in instances where they believe many of the HMOs in an area are being poorly managed.

Additional licensing relates to properties deemed Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), that fall outside the scope of the mandatory HMO licensing scheme.

If your property is defined as an HMO, you will need to check with your local authority to establish if the location of the building falls within an additional licensing jurisdiction. In London, some schemes only cover local areas, elsewhere they will relate to the whole borough.

Each council defines the type of HMOs which need a licence within an area.

Selective licensing

Once again, this type of licensing is determined by the local authority and can impact on different types of HMO, irrespective of size, number of rooms, number of storeys and number of tenants.

Recent legislation is going to change some of the above criteria and is likely to affect more landlord-owned properties that will have to be registered as HMOs.

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Is my property within an existing licensing area?

At present, HMO licensing is limited to specific local authorities, but it is absolutely imperative that you have the appropriate licence if your local council requires one.

You can check whether your property is located in an area requiring a licence.

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What are my obligations if I need a licence?

In order to operate a licensed HMO, you will need to apply to your local council. If you have a managing agent who represents you, they may apply on your behalf.

There will be a fee to pay, which is set by the local authority.

You will also need to meet a number of standards:

  • The house has to be suitable for the number of people living there
  • The person responsible for managing the property – which could be the landlord or an agent, must be considered ‘fit and proper’ – with no criminal record or history of breaching landlord laws of code of practice
  • You must provide the local council with an updated gas safety certificate every year
  • You must install and maintain smoke alarms
  • You must also provide safety certificates for all electrical appliances within the property when requested

The penalties for running an unlicensed HMO in an area requiring a licence, or for failing to meet the above standards, can be severe.

You could receive an unlimited fine if you rent out an unlicensed HMO.

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How have the HMO rules changed?

In early March 2018, the Government introduced the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Description) (England) Order 2018 (2018/221) (LHMO 2018).

As of 1 October 2018, the scope of mandatory licensing requirements for HMOs has been extended under section 55(3) of the Housing Act 2004 (HA 2004). This means that more properties will require a licence before they can be let.

  1. HMOs occupied by five or more people, must have an appropriate mandatory licence, with the number of storeys no longer a consideration.
  2. HMO licensing will also now apply to purpose-built flats where there are up to two flats in the block.
  3. HMOs that previously required a selective licence will now be subject to mandatory licensing.
  4. HMOs are subject to mandatory licensing in England.
  5. Landlords must obtain a mandatory licence where their property meets the following criteria:
  • It is occupied by five or more persons
  • It is occupied by persons living in two or more separate households
  • It meets the standard test under section 254(2) of the Act
  • It meets the self-contained flat test under section 254(3) of the Act but is not a purpose-built flat situated in a block comprising three or more self-contained flats
  • It meets the converted building test under section 254(4) of the Act.

A licence is valid for five years and a separate licence must apply to each HMO property.

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What should I do as an HMO landlord?

It is absolutely essential that you keep up to date with the changes taking place and ensure that you have the relevant HMO licence, if this is required. In the first instance, you should speak to your local council to learn if a licence is necessary and if so, what you must do.

The changes coming in will impact on a number of London’s landlords, but represent a further effort to improve standards with the private rental market.

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Landlord insurance from Towergate

We provide landlord insurance for a wide range of properties and tenants including multi occupancy, students, local authority placements, unoccupied and much more. See our landlord insurance page or call 0344 346 0409 for more.

Note: Every effort has been made to ensure the above information is correct at the time of this article going online, however, we recommend that you seek professional advice when reviewing if you need an HMO licence.

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About the author

Alison Wild Bcom Hons MAAT MATT Taxation Technician Commercial Tax Pensions Insurance And Marketing Specialist AuthorAlison Wild BCom (Hons), MAAT, MATT, Taxation Technician is a highly respected industry professional who has been working with and advising SMEs in areas including tax, pensions, insurance and marketing for over 25 years. She is a member of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and Association of Tax Technicians (ATT) and also has over 20 years' experience as a residential landlord.