Pub and restaurant operators who have properties containing residential accommodation for staff, or for separate commercial lettings, should be aware of changes to the HMO (House in Multiple Occupancy) licensing regime which were introduced in October.

Even if you did not previously did fall within this regime, you may now need to consider applying for a licence as a result new requirements. Operators who are already licensed will also need to comply with new minimum bedroom size requirements and waste disposal rules, to ensure existing licences can be successfully renewed.

What is an HMO?

This applies where:

  • The building contains accommodation which is let to three or more unrelated persons (other than in the form of self-contained flats)
  • Such persons form two or more households
  • Such persons occupy their accommodation as a main residence
  • Such occupants share communal facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms.

The old regime

Until 1 October 2018 licensing was mandatory for larger HMOs of three storeys or more, which housed five or more unrelated persons, in two or more separate households, with shared facilities. HMOs of two or less storeys did not fall under the mandatory licensing regime (although they may have fallen under enhanced licensing schemes set by individual Local Authorities).

The new regime

New regulations means that HMOs include properties of any number of storeys (rather than only three or more). This means an HMO licence is now required for all properties with five or more unrelated persons meeting the conditions above. Operators of previously unlicensed HMOs may therefore now fall within the mandatory licensing regime and need to act quickly by applying for a licence or for a temporary exemption.

Operators of HMOs that do not fall within the new mandatory regime should only be concerned to check (as they would have had to prior to 1 October 2018), that their HMO is not subject to any enhanced licensing scheme set by their Local Authority.

What other changes do operators managing HMOs need to be aware of?

Additional changes add to the mandatory licensing conditions that must be complied with in operating HMOs and introduce new minimum size room requirements and waste disposal provisions.

New minimum room sizes

The minimum sleeping room sizes are now:

  • 6.51 m2 for one person over 10 years of age
  • 10.22 m2 for two persons over 10 years of age
  • 4.64 m2 for one child under the age of 10 years
  • Any room of less than 4.64 m2 may not be used as sleeping accommodation and the landlord needs to notify the local housing authority of any such room in the HMO
  • Any room with a ceiling height of less than 1.5m cannot be count towards the minimum room size.

Local Authorities may also set their own requirements for room sizes beyond the mandatory minimum and set conditions specifying maximum number of persons of each age category who may share a room.

Will the changes mean an existing HMO licence is now invalid?

The changes do not have retrospective effect and so will not invalidate any existing HMO licence – however licences being renewed or applied for from 1 October 2018 require compliance with the new mandatory licensing conditions.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Renting out an unlicensed HMO and being in breach of any licensing conditions are criminal offences. If convicted for such offences the licence holder is liable to an unlimited fine (although the local housing authority may impose a fine of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution). In addition, if a property has not been licensed as an HMO where it should have been licensed, a landlord may not be able to evict a tenant using the s21 procedure, as the s21 notice will be void, and any tenants can make a claim for a rent-refund.

Advice

You may consider seeking legal advice if:

  • You are buying a property or business which contains an HMO
  • You are unsure whether your HMO falls within the mandatory or additional licensing scheme
  • You have let out an HMO which should be licensed but is not licensed
  • You require advice on applying for a new licence or renewal licence
  • You are in breach of any licensing conditions or uncertain how the conditions apply to your HMO
  • You are unsure whether your HMO requires planning permission (the planning regime for HMO is separate to the licensing regime although, generally speaking, the changes introduced from 1 October are unlikely to introduce any new requirement to obtain planning permission for C4 (small HMO) or Sui Generis (large HMO) use).

Talk to our specialist Drinks, Hospitality and Leisure team who can provide advice on all aspects of HMOs.