Rising house prices are being blamed for the middle-aged property lockout. Flat-sharing website Spareroom reports that, between 2009 and 2014, there was a 186% increase in flat-sharers aged 35 and 44 and a 300% increase in flat-sharers aged 45 to 55.[1] This is evidence that choosing to live in a House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) is still an option for many, long after University of Hull or East Riding College days.

Across England, an estimated 1.9% of properties are in multiple occupancy. The number of HMO properties in Kingston Upon Hull is slightly higher than the national average (3.2%), but HMO properties in the East Riding of Yorkshire is lower than the national average (0.86%).[2]

What is a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO)?

It is generally accepted that a house will be in multiple occupation if three or more people live there, if tenants are not part of the same household (such as different families) and they share some common spaces and amenities.

The formal definition is set out in section 254 of the Housing Act 2004, and is further referenced in The Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Description) (England) Order 2018.

Not all HMOs will require a licence, but there are generally two conditions where a licence will be required. The first is that HMOs that meet the “prescribed definition” set out in The Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation Order 2018must obtain a licence from their local authority under the Mandatory Licensing scheme. This prescribed definition is as follows:

  1. is occupied by five or more persons;
  2. is occupied by persons living in two or more separate households; and
  3. meets—
    • the standard test under section 254(2) of the Act;
    • the self-contained flat test under section 254(3) of the Act but is not a purpose-built flat situated in a block comprising three or more self-contained flats; or
    • the converted building test under section 254(4) of the Act.

The second instance in which a HMO will require a licence is if it is in a specified licensing zone determined by the local authority.[3]

In East Riding, for example, even smaller HMOs in the south-east of Goole require a licence. Within that zone, the council has set its own requirements for when a HMO needs to be registered. These requirements are that the property has:[4]

  • 4 or more people, forming 2 or more households, who are sharing facilities such as toilets, bathrooms and kitchens
  • 2 or more floors, including cellars, basements and loft conversions

It is not always immediately clear when a licence may be required, which is why it is incredibly important that you check with the local authority where any of your rental properties are located to see if you need to get one. Licences are not transferrable, and so you will need to reapply if you’re purchasing a property that had a mandatory HMO licence.

In most instances, the local authority will be the local council. Information about the process for obtaining a licence can be found on the local authority website for where the HMO is located.

Landlord obligations for licensed HMOs

As a landlord, you have a number of obligations to your tenants to provide a safe and habitable space for them to live. As a part of those basic conditions, your HMO licence will set out specific conditions to help ensure the property is fit-for-purpose for the number of people living there.

Examples of the conditions HMOs must meet include:[5]

  • Minimum room sizes to prevent overcrowding and ensure a habitable space
  • Adequate levels of natural lighting, artificial lighting in all rooms and common areas, and staircase lighting that can be switched on and off from both up and downstairs
  • Adequate ventilation, including appropriate floor-to-ceiling ratios to allow air to circulate and having windows, for natural ventilation where possible, or enough vents
  • Space heating with a controllable temperature (portable heating cannot be used in place of this requirement)
  • Security measures in place, such as stairwell and entrance lighting as well as appropriate locking devices
  • Water supply that is drinkable and of an adequate pressure
  • Bathroom and sanitary conveniences, including baths, showers and wash basins, must be reasonably sized and suitably located
  • Suitable and sufficient self-catering kitchen facilities, which includes cooking appliances, utensils, food preparation area, a sink with hot/cold water, and a refrigerator/freezer (can be combined)
  • Sufficient refuse facilities for the number of people in the property
  • Appropriate fire safety measures, including smoke alarms and fire blankets or extinguishers

Penalties for not complying

It is important to make sure your HMO complies with local authority licensing requirements. Failure to do so can result in a fine and criminal conviction. Local authorities now have the power to fine landlords up to £30,000 for failing to licence a HMO where it is required.[6]

In addition, HMO tenants may have the right to reclaim past rental payments made to their landlord if the property is an illegal unlicensed HMO.

Most buy-to-let mortgage lenders now require licences to be in place, or to be obtainable before they will lend funds on HMO properties. It is important, therefore, that you check you have the necessary licences and renew them when necessary to avoid breaching any terms of a mortgage.

Planning permission

It may also be necessary to apply for planning permission to create a HMO, depending of the size/circumstances in the local area. For example, any HMOs with more than six residents will require special planning permission. There are different HMO use classes to take into account, which will factor into your licensing application.

Get the right advice

If you are buying, selling, transferring or re-mortgaging a HMO, there are a number of factors to consider in this specialised area of law. Our team have a wealth of experience in HMOs, particularly those within the authority areas of Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

To take advantage of a Free Fixed Quote to see if our service is right for you, call us on 01482 300 200


[1] Patrick Collinson, ‘The other generation rent: meet the people flatsharing in their 40s’, The Guardian (online, 25 September 2015) https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/sep/25/flatsharing-40s-housing-crisis-lack-homes-renting-london.

[2] Figures calculated using multiple and publically available datasets for each region.

[3] Housing Act 2004, section 56.

[4] East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Licensing for houses in multiple occupation, ‘What is additional licensing of houses in multiple occupation?’ https://www.eastriding.gov.uk/business/licences-and-registrations/available-licences/other-licences/houses-in-multiple-occupation/.

[5] See The Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Mandatory Conditions of Licences) (England) Regulations 2018, section 2; East Riding of Yorkshire Council, ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation Guidance and Amenity Standards’, https://www.eastriding.gov.uk/housing/private-housing-landlords/houses-multiple-occupation/.

[6] Housing Act 2004, section 249A.