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Is my rental property a House in Multiple Occupation?

The legislation regarding renting out a “House in Multiple Occupation” is a very grey area indeed.  To begin with, what is a “House in Multiple Occupation” (or HMO)?

  • A House in Multiple Occupation is a flat or house which is set over 3 or more storeys (it could also be a 2 storey flat or maisonette built over a shop or with a garage or another storey underneath)
  • The occupants must be 5 or more individuals from 2 or more families – so people who are not blood related, such as friends (sharers); maybe 3 friends sharing where 2 have their partners staying over….?

These HMO’s will MOST DEFINITELY require a license from the Local Council so there is not such a grey area here, but all Councils will have discretionary licensing or HMO requirements in place for smaller HMO’s and this is where the problem arises:


House in Multiple Occupation, or Not?

House in Multiple Occupation, or Not?


So this week we carried out a viewing at a delightful town centre duplex 3 bedroom apartment, the entrance being on the ground floor, with stairs up to the main living space on the 1st floor and then further stairs up into the attic where the bedrooms and bathroom are situated.

The accommodation is beautifully spacious, all of the bedrooms are doubles, so it is ideal for 3 professional sharers:  Exactly who offered the asking price!


However, this could potentially be classed as a House in Multiple Occupation…. set over 3 storeys, 3 unrelated sharers…. a call to Three Rivers District Council confirmed that, although not licensable, this property would most definitely require HMO safety checks.

So a meeting was organised with Earl Jackson from Three Rivers District Council, who came along to meet us at the property in order to give us an indication of works that would be necessary under HMO legislation and this is a brief summary of that meeting:

Firstly most of this is common sense, so if you find yourself having to make a quick judgement over whether you could be dealing with a HMO or not, think about the dangers posed to the tenants and what risks would be involved if, for instance, there was a fire or a gas leak:

  • Could the tenants easily escape if there was a fire?
  • Is there a safe route out of the property?
  • Are there adequate warning signs?
  • Are there preventative measures in place to stop the spread of fire or gas?
  • If the house was full of smoke – could the tenants find their way out?

So the main items to look for are:

INTERNAL DOORS – are they fire resistant or, at least, big SOLID wooden doors?  These doors need to keep the fire out, or contain it within a room, so they need to have intumescent strips around the frames and be tight fitting and, preferably self closing.  This is especially important for doors of rooms or cupboards containing hazards, such as the kitchen, the boiler room, or the gas meters!

LOOK AT THE ESCAPE ROUTE – is it clear of obstructions & does it have adequate lighting (floor lighting is preferred as smoke rises up) so that the escapee can see where to go?  If it is a very large property there should also be alarms situated along the escape route, marked “Break Glass in Emergency” and also, in the communal parts, there must be details of who the managing agent or landlord is, where to congregate in the case of an emergency, and details of the safety certificates in place for the property.

WHERE ARE THE SMOKE OR HEAT DETECTORS LOCATED? Have as many as you can and these should be mains wired (because batteries can be taken out or can run out – and if the tenant does not replace working batteries and there is a fire, the responsibility would still fall on the Landlord because it would be his duty to check!)  By the way, a smoke detector near the kitchen might be set off when someone burns toast, so it is probably more advisable for the detector nearest to the kitchen to be a heat detector, so as not to really annoy the tenants by constantly going off!

IS THERE A FIRE BLANKET IN THE KITCHEN? To quickly throw over a chip pan on fire? Some Landlords may also provide a fire extinguisher however there is a divided view on this… does a fire extinguisher in the kitchen mean that someone might linger too long trying to put out the fire, when they should just concentrate on getting themselves & others out of the property?

IS THERE A CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTOR NEAR THE GAS BOILER? Gas is a silent killer, and carbon monoxide is odourless, so this is vitally important, not only in a House in Multiple Occupation but in any rented accommodation with a gas appliance.

ARE THERE ADEQUATE SOCKETS IN EACH ROOM? You do not want your tenants to be overloading the circuits with lots of extension leads which have not been checked – a common fire hazard.

ARE COMMUNAL PARTS FIRE-PROOF? Plasterboard is usually adequate, so watch out for open tread staircases (which are a NO GO), for match-board stairwells, for overstairs or understairs storage cupboards where tenants might be tempted to store cardboard packing boxes or items which might easily go up in flames!

ABOVE A SHOP? If there is a shop below, there MUST ne at least 1 hour resistance between the ceiling of the shop and the floor of the flat.


That in all instances, the Landlord is responsible for the safety of the tenants and you cannot use ignorance as a defense; you cannot say ‘I didn’t know it was dangerous’ and expect to get away with causing harm to a tenant.

So please think carefully about the tenants you are putting into your property, could they potentially turn your rental into a House in Multiple Occupation?  If you are unsure then call us and we will look into the situation for you 01923 721900.

If it looks as though it is potentially at risk, a Fire Assessment Check will need to be carried out to give you all of the different alterations you will be required to make, and keep a check of, throughout the tenancy:  Sewell & Gardner can organise this on your behalf.  This report will more than likely mean a number of alterations to the property to minimise hazards and protect the safety of your tenant but it is likely to cost you money.  Remember this cost CAN be shared with the potential tenants, subject to negotiation, so don’t dismiss sharers out of hand, it might mean you have a much safer rental property going forward!


More information on this subject is available here: