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Landlords need to be aware of changes to HMO legislation

Are you the landlord of a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)?

Essentially, that will be a let property accommodating three or more tenants who comprise more than one separate household and share such basic facilities as a bathroom and toilet or kitchen.

For a more formal definition, you might want to review the government website or our own Landlords Guide to HMOs which we updated on the 25th of October 2021.

HMO legislation

For good reason, HMOs are probably the most tightly regulated types of let accommodation. The relevant legislation is constantly amended and updated. As a landlord, of course, you need to stay abreast of those changes.

Get caught out by any impending new legislation and you might face penalties that include unlimited fines, rent repayment orders, confiscation of your goods or property under the Proceeds of Crime Act, banning orders, or even imprisonment, warns the National HMO Network.

Maintaining standards

The government is committed to improving the overall quality of affordable rented accommodation and is frequently targeted toward HMOs because these are sometimes of the poorest standards.

Tighter control over HMOs emerged from wider licensing powers for local authorities with effect from the 1st of October 2018. This required the licensing of any dwelling accommodating more than five tenants in more than a single household. In the past, the licensing requirement applied only to those HMOs of three storeys or more that accommodated more than five tenants.

Non-mandatory licensing

In addition to the licensing requirements for HMOs housing more than five tenants in two households or more, local authorities also have the means of requiring licences – non-mandatory licences – either in a specific area or an entire district.

The housing charity Shelter explains that these non-mandatory licences may be required if the local council believes HMOs in the relevant areas are being mismanaged or that they are causing problems (of overcrowding, for example) for tenants or for the general public.

Previously, the government has announced that it is reviewing how this kind of selective licensing is working, with particular regard to the requirement that HMO landlords are “fit or proper persons” and the suitability of their management and adherence to appropriate safety standards for tenants. Although the results of that review were expected in the spring of 2019, they are still awaited.

Whatever the results, any new legislation or regulation can be expected to affect many landlords. The last major round of changes – involving new licensing and standards requirements – in the summer of 2018 was estimated by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government to affect some 160,000 additional landlords.

Room sizes

Overcrowding remains one of the chief concerns about the standard of housing provided by HMOs – and a principal measure is given by minimum room sizes.

The current requirements were published in details released by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), on the 8th of August 2018 – and which require:

  • any bedroom occupied by a single adult to be no less than 6.51sqm in floor area;
  • any bedroom occupied by two adults to be no less than 10.22sqm;
  • children under the age of ten must have a bedroom with at least 4.64sqm of floor area; and
  • the HMO licence may stipulate the maximum number of people who may occupy any specific room used as sleeping accommodation.

Whilst there has been general acceptance for the introduction of minimum room sizes, some landlords of HMOs continue to argue that the requirements have an adverse knock-on effect by making it necessary to charge increased rents.


Keeping abreast of any HMO legislation is key. If you are ever unsure, visit the Government website for further advice and guidance or speak to your local authority.

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