Your Essential Handbook to HMO Compliance: Rules, Regulations, and Best Practices

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So, what does the changing world of HMO regulations mean for you as a property investor or landlord? Beyond grasping the rules and navigating the bureaucracy, it’s about seizing opportunities in a dynamic market. Mastering the complexities of HMO regulations, from licensing to safety standards, enables you to make strategic decisions, anticipate changes, and position your investments for long-term success. Staying informed and adaptable isn’t just good practice; it’s essential for capitalising on the potential of HMO properties. Step forward into the HMO regulatory ecosystem –your every move matters.

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THE HMO SCOPE

As a matter of good practice, let’s pinpoint the basics of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs), outlining what they are and what they are not.

A property is considered an HMO if it’s home to at least three people forming more than one ‘household’. This usually means they aren’t related or in a single family-unit, but they share facilities like the kitchen or bathroom. HMOs aren’t limited to houses; flats can qualify too, provided they house multiple households under one address. However, each separate flat in a block typically doesn’t count as an HMO due to individual addresses and facilities.

In this context, three key definitions emerge within the scope of HMO properties:

  • C3 Use Class: Pertains to properties used as dwelling houses, serving as either a sole or primary residence for a single person, a family living together, or a maximum of 6 residents cohabiting as a single household.
  • C4 Use Class: This category applies to properties housing up to six unrelated individuals who use the dwelling as their sole primary residence and share communal facilities like a kitchen and bathroom. An HMO from 3 to 6 occupants is classified under C4 use class.
  • Sui Generis Use Class: Larger HMOs fall under ‘Sui Generis’ –a legal category for unique or special properties that do not fit into standard planning categories, requiring specific permissions. This is the case for HMOs with 7+ occupants.

HMOs vs. Co-Living Spaces

  • HMO Perception: Historically, HMOs have battled with a reputation for low quality, often associated with poor housing conditions. But they’re evolving with designs that aim to meet ethical and aesthetic standards.
  • Co-Living Concept: Co-living spaces are the contemporary cousins of HMOs, offering high-quality living conditions, with a focus on design and shared community spaces, often appealing to professionals.

As the model of HMOs continues to evolve, it progresses into much more sophisticated than affordable accommodation. The trend is for the better, embracing strategic design and an emphasis on quality with the highest safety standards; the contemporary HMO aims to provide a communal and comfortable living space that caters to the needs of today’s renters.

The nuances of HMOs and co-living spaces can guide investors and landlords in making informed decisions that align with modern living expectations and legal specifications. So, the goal becomes a synergy between providing a quality living experience that tenants value and remaining compliant with housing and safety regulations.

HMO PLANNING →

BUILDING REGULATION HMO LICENSING
  • Planning Permission for HMO Conversion
  • Space Standards
  • Article 4 Direction
  • HMO Fire Doors
  • Fire Risk Assessments
  • Compliance for Large HMOs
  • Managing Energy Consumption
  • Energy Regulations
  • Space Requirements and Health Standards
  • HMO Council Tax

HMO Compliance Sequence 

HMO COMPLIANCE

A compliant HMO is a property that adheres to all standards and regulations established by local authorities and governing bodies. This involves meeting safety requirements, securing the required licences, offering essential amenities, and meeting specific criteria regarding occupant numbers, room dimensions, and overall living conditions. The emphasis is on ensuring resident safety and well-being while aligning with legal frameworks and building standards. Achieving HMO compliance demands a meticulous approach, so let’s delve in the building stones of regulatory requirements: planning, building regulations, and licensing.

 

HMO PLANNING

The path to compliance begins by assessing whether gaining planning permission from the local authority is necessary.

In a nutshell, planning permission isn’t required for small HMOs unless they are in an Article 4 area, which imposes further restrictions. However, large HMOs (Sui Generis Class) will invariably require planning permission. Failure to obtain it may result in a breach of planning, leading to an enforcement notice and potential prosecution by the authority.

Obtaining Planning Permission for HMO Conversion

  • The size factor: Depending on the size and type of HMO, planning permission may be required. Consent might be unnecessary for small HMOs (3 to 6 occupants), but larger ones typically need it.
  • Mandatory paperwork: Preparing comprehensive planning drawings and documents to support your application is crucial. These should include detailed floor plans and elevations to demonstrate how the HMO will fit into the neighbourhood.
  • Sui Generis Planning: A ‘Sui Generis’ classification often applies to larger HMOs (7 or more occupants). This is a unique category requiring specific planning permission. This process demands careful attention to detail and a robust consideration of local planning policies.

Further considerations of development restrictions and guidelines specific to HMOs include adherence to local regulations, as each local authority can extend rules and policies to render acceptable standards for HMOs. In some cases, loft conversions in HMOs can be undertaken under Permitted Development rights, without the need of full planning permission. However, this depends on various factors, including the property’s location and the scope of the conversion.

Space Standards

HMOs must also meet specific size standards for areas like the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as bedroom size criteria. For instance, a bedroom must have a minimum of 6.51 sq m for one person and 10.22 sq m for two (for individuals aged 10 and above), while only floor areas with a minimum ceiling height of 1.5 m count for this criterion.

Maintaining an accurate record of the number of occupants is another imperative (assessed for Licensing), as surpassing the documented limit may result in regulatory violations with serious consequences. Ultimately, it falls upon the landlord to stay well-informed about the evolving rules and regulations in the sector, ensuring a secure environment for tenants.

HMO Rules: Article 4 Direction

Navigating the HMO ecosystem requires a keen understanding of strict regulatory parameters, crucial for shaping an effective strategy. Central to this landscape is Article 4 Direction.

Withdrawal of Permitted Development Rights: The primary purpose of an Article 4 Direction is to remove certain permitted development rights that would typically be available to property owners without the need for a full planning application.

Article 4 Direction and Criteria

  • Article 4 Direction for HMOs: This legal mechanism allows local authorities to require planning permission for developments that would otherwise not need it; in the chapter for HMOs, the change from a single-family home to an HMO is subject to tighter controls.
  • Criteria for Application:The principles in Article 4 Direction evaluate aspects such as the impact on the character of an area, local housing needs, and the desire to ensure a balanced community. For instance, councils may impose it when they perceive an over-concentration of HMOs that could negatively affect the local housing market or alter the neighbourhood dynamics.

Impact of Article 4 on Property Investment

  • Challenges for Investors:Article 4 Directions can complicate the investment landscape by adding a layer of planning permission that requires careful navigation. This means due diligence, a longer timeframe, and potential risks if permission is denied.
  • CarefulConsideration: Savvy investors need to be strategic in their approach, considering areas with high demand and limited HMO supply, such as specific London boroughs linked to Article 4. Learning local and the UK’s Article 4 directives and how they might affect investment is key. In areas with no Article 4, investors enjoy the benefits of permitted development rights, offering a more streamlined investment process, albeit still requiring a deep knowledge of local laws and community dynamics.
  • Due Diligence is Paramount:A thorough understanding of Article 4 Directions and their implications on the planning process and community impact is crucial. Authorities will evaluate areas of concern such as parking, noise, and the overall effect on the local community. Engaging with neighbours and local planning officers early in the process can help address potential concerns and streamline the planning process.

BUILDING REGULATION & SAFETY STANDARDS

Ensuring the safety of tenants in an HMO is a crucial aspect of building regulations. Various prerequisites, spanning from the pre-construction phase to the completion of the project, must be met to obtain a Completion Certificate – a mandatory requirement for licensing. Key building blocks include acquiring an up-to-date electrical certificate, a gas safety certificate, and the installation of functional smoke and fire alarms.

Additionally, the property must be maintained in a state free from mould and damp.

HMO Fire Doors

Fire doors are an essential measure in HMO fire safety. Crafted from fire-resistant materials such as solid timber, these doors can contain a fire for 30 minutes, a widely accepted standard noted by the name of FD30 (Fire Door with 30 min fire resistance). In HMOs, specific requirements dictate where these doors are essential –each bedroom, living room, kitchen entry point, and along all escape routes​​. It’s worth mentioning that fire doors are not necessary for bathrooms, utility rooms, or storage spaces. This nuanced approach ensures both safety and cost-effectiveness in HMO fire safety measures.

As an HMO landlord, you also need to familiarise yourself with the standard fire doors used in HMOs, the fire protection they offer in terms of minutes​​, the different materials –such as timber, glass, aluminium, gypsum, and steel– and their specifications –such as their performance under high temperatures​​ and they fit into the design.

 Fire Risk Assessments

Fire risk assessments are mandatory under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. A thorough fire risk assessment includes identifying fire hazards, assessing people at risk, removing and reducing risks, recording plans and findings, and regular reviews​​.

In HMO properties, fire safety encompasses a range of critical measures tailored to the property’s size and layout. For instance, smaller HMOs may be adequately served by Grade D Category LD3 smoke alarm systems. In contrast, larger ones often require Grade A systems in communal areas, coupled with LD3 systems in individual units. Moreover, HMOs housing 5 or more occupants are required to install LD1 Fire Alarm Systems, ensuring comprehensive fire detection and alarm coverage throughout the property.

Emergency lighting is another essential, varying from borrowed lighting in smaller HMOs to comprehensive systems adhering to BS 5266 Part 1 standards for larger establishments. Equally important is the supply of firefighting equipment, including fire extinguishers and fire blankets, alongside regular maintenance and training for occupants and staff; and ensuring areas around stairs and critical passageways are constructed with fire-resistant materials, including fire-rated ductwork.

Compliance is not just a regulatory requirement but a critical factor in preventing life-threatening incidents and avoiding severe legal repercussions, underscoring the importance of adhering strictly to the newest standards under fire safety legislation for tenant safety and legal conformity.

Compliance Requirements for Large HMOs

Large HMOs, housing seven or more tenants, are subject to mandatory licensing. Here, compliance extends beyond licensing into specific planning permissions, ensuring minimum room sizes and strict adherence to fire safety standards, including installing and regularly maintaining carbon monoxide and smoke alarms.

A key component of maintaining compliance is conducting regular assessments to evaluate and mitigate potential hazards and adherence to current regulations. Additionally, ensuring the renewal of certificates and conducting a periodic Electrical Installation Condition Report is essential.

Non-compliance with HMO regulations can have significant consequences, ranging from hefty financial penalties. Regular assessments, appropriate licensing, and adherence to planning regulations are crucial in successfully navigating this market. By staying informed and proactive, you can effectively manage your HMO properties, thus avoiding the potential pitfalls of non-compliance.

Managing Energy Consumption in HMO Properties

Enhancing energy efficiency in HMOs is essential to property management and legal compliance. Some strategies can include one or a combination of insulation improvements (covering walls, lofts, floors, and hot water cylinders), upgrading windows and doors to more energy-efficient models like triple glazing and fibreglass doors, renovating heating systems with modern solutions and smart thermostats, and adopting energy-saving technologies.

In some instances, investors willing to extend efforts and integrate more efficient long-term strategies look to renewable energy sources like solar panels, biomass boilers, and heat pumps, which can significantly improve energy efficiency and EPC ratings, a standard requirement for Licensing.

While specific exemptions exist for properties that can’t feasibly achieve a ‘C’ rating, landlords should be aware of potential future changes, which might tighten requirements, nevertheless.

The best approach is adopting a proactive stand, identifying the current energy performance of properties and planning necessary upgrades. Although the initial investment may be considerable, the long-term benefits of energy cost savings and compliance with future standards can be substantial.

Review the complete analysis of the upcoming energy requirements of 2028 and learn how adapting to the new efficiency standards can assist in keeping your HMO property compliant and cost-effective.

HMO LICENSING

The journey to effectively managing a rental classified as HMO hinges on a detailed comprehension of and abiding by the licensing process. This will ensure that yours is a compliant HMO while enhancing tenant safety and protecting your investment.

The licensing process involves identifying the distinctions between mandatory and selective licensing. The criteria consider various factors, for instance, the number of unrelated tenants in the particular house share. At the same time, other rules might be imposed by local authorities to address specific issues in the housing market. Another consideration is the case for exemptions, such as properties where the owner lives in the same house, and determined again by the number of occupants.

Detailed understanding of the HMO licence process will help determine the locations and types of properties that can potentially enhance your investment plan –and which ones won’t. For instance, you’ll find that the cost of obtaining a license varies, ranging from approximately £400 to £2000, influenced by the HMO size and local council policies.

Applying for an HMO licence, typically taking 2 to 4 weeks, includes:

  • Submitting a detailed application.
  • Providing necessary documentation like fire safety certificates.
  • Paying the required fees, often partially and upfront.

The validation period also varies. A mandatory licence for an HMO with 5 or more occupants remains valid for 5 years, requiring timely licence renewal to prevent lapses and avoid fines.

Reviewing the reasons for potential license refusal is crucial, as non-compliance with safety and regulatory standards can lead to denial. Also, HMO licenses are not transferable, meaning new owners of existing HMOs must obtain their licenses. These insights aim to provide a foundational knowledge of the HMO licensing process, assisting landlords and investors in effectively navigating and ensuring their properties are compliant and secure.

Let’s draw an HMO licence roadmap to incorporate the key considerations:

  1. Navigate the Local Authority Licensing Process
    • Mandatory vs. Selective Licensing:
      • Mandatory Licensingis required for larger HMOs, typically with 5 or more unrelated occupants.
      • Selective Licensing comes into effect when there are 3 to 4 unrelated occupants, giving councils the discretion to enforce or not enforce an HMO licence.
    • Cost and Duration: Costs can vary significantly depending on the size of the HMO and the local council’s policies. The process of obtaining a licence takes 2 to 4 weeks, provided all prerequisites are met.
    • Application Process:
      • Online Application: Start by visiting the council’s portal to create an account and manage your HMO licences.
      • Filling the Form: Submit a comprehensive application form, ensuring it includes all necessary details.
      • Uploading Documentation: Provide all required documentation, such as emergency light certificates, fire detection certificates, electrical installation certificates, etc.
      • Fee Payment: The council may require partial upfront payment, with the balance due upon licence grant.
    • Renewal: Take note of the validation terms and any changes to remain compliant in the future. You’ll be required to apply timely for renewal to avoid lapses and potential fines.
  2. Dealing with Refusals and Transfers
  • Licence Refusal: An HMO licence can be denied if the property fails to meet safety and regulatory standards. Common reasons include inadequate smoke alarms, subpar fire standards, and non-compliance with planning permissions.
  • Non-Transferability: HMO licences are specific to landlords and not transferable.
  1. Exemptions and Living in Your Own HMO
  • Exemptions: Certain scenarios, like the owner living in the property with up to two lodgers, can exempt you from needing an HMO licence.
  • Living in Your Own HMO: You can reside in your HMO with up to two lodgers without it being classified as an HMO. However, exceeding this number subjects the property to HMO regulations.

HMO Energy Regulations

Energy efficiency standards are a regulatory necessity for licensing and an opportunity for HMO landlords to contribute to a more sustainable future. By factoring the implications of EPC ratings and strategically investing in energy-efficient upgrades –even improving upon benchmarks, landlords can ensure their properties are both compliant and cost-effective in the long run.

Understanding Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) for HMOs

Another item to consider in your HMO compliance checklist is the Environmental Performance Certificate (EPC), a critical compliance aspect.

  • Current Minimum Standards: Achieving a minimum E rating is a standard requirement to obtain an HMO license.
  • Upcoming Regulations:By January 2028, it’s likely that all rented properties, including HMOs, will need to have an EPC rating of ‘C’ or higher. This is part of the government’s net-zero target to reduce energy consumption in domestic properties.
  • Consequences of Non-Compliance:Landlords who fail to meet these standards could face financial penalties, with a cap of £10,000 per property for necessary improvements.

HMO Space Requirements and Health Standards

HMO landlords and managers must navigate a delicate terrain, balancing tenant satisfaction with licensing requirements. A particular area of concern involves space and health standards in shared areas like bathrooms and kitchens.

Shared Spaces and Standards

For bedrooms, the minimum space requirements vary based on the number of occupants. Likewise, bathrooms need careful consideration of conditions; for example, that one bathroom should be available for every four tenants, with separate toilets for HMOs housing more than five people.

The minimum area requirements for bathrooms depends on the facilities provided. Kitchens also have specific size requirements: at least 7 square meters for up to five people, with additional space needed for each extra person, up to a maximum of ten occupants.

Regarding health and safety, the policies mandate that surfaces in shared bathroom facilities should be, for instance, slip resistant and ideally on the same floor as the bedrooms. While observing other guidelines, such as adequate heating, ventilation and acoustic, also consider that privacy and security are equally vital for tenant satisfaction.

HMO Council Tax

Navigating council tax implications is also part of managing HMOs, involving careful differentiation of individual versus collective responsibilities, and understanding the tax benefits and liabilities for landlords.

Prior to December 2023, some HMO landlords faced the financial burden of paying individual council tax for each self-contained unit within their property, significantly impacting monthly costs. The recent update to HMO tax regulations, however, has shifted this dynamic. Now, regardless of the self-contained units, landlords are required to pay only one council tax bill for the entire property, provided tenants share common areas. This change simplifies the tax process and potentially reduces the financial load on landlords, marking a significant shift in the cost structure of managing HMOs. 

While landlords may be eligible for tax deductions -although this varies based on specific tax laws and regulations- it’s important to note that council tax rates also differ across locations. Landlords must also be mindful of tenant turnover rates, as they remain responsible for council tax during void periods.

Get familiar with HMO tax regulations. Remember to stay informed and proactive to ensure your HMO investments remain viable and lucrative, balancing the potential tax benefits against the liabilities of council tax responsibilities.

Wrapping up HMO Regulations

The UK HMO market is dynamic, with evolving regulations and tenant expectations. Staying informed and adaptable is vital for investors and landlords to navigate this challenging yet rewarding industry.

This outline serves as a roadmap in the HMO regulatory ecosystem. For a detailed exploration of each aspect, you can explore our valuable resources, including comprehensive guides and insightful HMO webinars. And for further assistance with your HMO project, you can schedule a complimentary discovery call; we’ll be happy to help you.

Picture of Giovanni Patania

Giovanni Patania

(Architect Director, Co-Founder)

Giovanni Patania is the Lead Architect and Co-Founder at HMO Architect and Windsor Patania Architects.

Originally from Siena, Italy, Giovanni worked as a Project Lead Architect at Foster+ Partners, designing Apple stores across the world,

An HMO Investor himself, Giovanni understands property thoroughly, both from an investor's perspective and technically, as an Architect.

With over 15 years of HMO development experience, working on over 150+ HMOs and a 95% Planning and Building Regulation success rate, Giovanni has the expertise and credentials to help you on your HMO journey."

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