What is an HMO?

HMO stands for 'House in Multiple Occupation.' This means a property shared between more than one household. For the purposes of defining HMOs, a household is considered to be one or more adults related by blood or marriage and any dependants – a family, effectively. So for example, if two people were living in a property with their grown up children they would be considered a single household, but a group of four friends living together would be seen as four separate households.

What is a housing co-op?

A housing co-operative is an organisational structure that allows a group of like minded individuals to purchase a house and act as their own landlord. In this case we're specifically talking about fully mutual housing co-ops that are managed by general meeting. This means that all tenants of the co-op property must be members, and all members are directly involved in running the co-op taking responsibility for managing the co-op's finances and maintaining and improving the house.

Are all housing co-ops HMOs?

Basically speaking, an HMO is a property occupied by more than one household. This would normally apply to housing co-ops providing shared accommodation. However, housing co-ops may or may not require licensing as HMOs.

Why are HMOs licensed?

In the vast majority of cases, HMOs are private rented accommodation, and the licensing regime intends to ensure that property rented by landlords meets certain standards of maintenance and fire safety, that vulnerable tenants are protected and that the house is not overcrowded.

Do all HMOs have to be licensed?

Not all HMOs need to be licensed. The standard requirements are that a HMO housing 5 or more adults over 3 or more floors needs a license, however councils can apply stricter requirements in designated areas.

How does HMO licensing work?

If your property is occupied by 5 or more people and it has 3 or more storeys then you are required to apply to your local council for a license. Some local councils may also require other types of HMOs to be licensed. You are responsible for approaching the council. You will have to pay an administration fee and the license will last for up to 5 years.

The Council will carry out checks and grant a license provided you meet certain requirements, such as the property being suitable for occupation by the number of people specified and that the license holder and manager of the property are both a 'fit and proper person'. (By the way, it isn't too clear how this works for fully mutual housing co-ops. Who are co-ops supposed to name as the manager on the license?) The license will include various conditions as a matter of course (like gas safety certificates) and may also have extra requirements (like a requirement for specific repairs to be carried out within a particular timeframe).

How does planning legislation affect HMOs?

There is a piece of legislation called the Use Classes Amendment Order which basically makes an HMO something you need planning permission for. This applies to all HMOs, not just the big licensable ones.

If the property you want to move into is already an HMO and has been for at least four years then you need to apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness. If the property you want to move into should have been licensed but wasn't then the landlord was breaking the law and so may not be very cooperative in your application for a Certificate of Lawfulness.

If the property you want to move into isn't already an HMO then you need to apply for change of use planning permission. The big problem is that this is discretionary and may not be granted. This means that if you buy a house without waiting to get planning permission you may find yourself owning a property that you are not lawfully allowed to live in.

My co-op is a Registered Social Landlord (RSL), are we affected?

Registered Social Landlords are exempted from HMO licensing (because they have their own regulations) but the Change of Use Class planning legislation technically still applies if you want to expand.

How is housing benefit affected by this?

Housing benefit cannot be lawfully claimed for a property which ought to have an HMO license but does not have one. If housing benefit is paid when it shouldn't be, the local council can claw it back.

Is the situation the same in England, Scotland and Wales?

The situation we have described in this FAQ always apply in England and generally apply in Wales.

In Wales the licensing regulations apply to housing co-ops as in England, but the planning requirements are slightly different. Planning applications for change of use are not required to establish a HMO of 6 or less adults, but are a requirement for HMOs of more than 6.

In Scotland fully mutual housing co-operatives are already exempt from the HMO licensing regulations.

Does this mean when the exemption takes effect, housing co-op properties are no longer HMOs?

It's important to remember that the exemption is only from HMO licensing. Housing co-ops still have exactly the same duty to provide a safe and healthy environment for their residents as before. However they are now expected, like owner occupiers, to do this autonomously, without the need for local authority involvement.

FHA intends to do more work in this area to develop an appropriate risk assessment for small fully-mutual housing co-op properties.