Compliance Property licensing
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The purpose of licensing, especially for HMOs, is to ensure that residential accommodation within the Private Rented Sector (PRS) is safe, well managed and of good quality with a particular focus on safety.
A House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) is any residential property occupied by three or more people sharing facilities like a bathroom and/or kitchen who form two or more 'households'.
A household is either a single person or members of the same family who live together. A family includes people who are:
Some domestic staff would be included in the household if they are living in the house as a result of the terms of their contract e.g. an adult carer and up to three people receiving care are a single household.
Mandatory licensing of large HMOs
This applies nationwide for HMOs where there are five or more occupants in a property of three or more storeys and the tenants comprise of two or more households.
However, from 1st October 2018 the definition is changing and the three storey requirement is being dropped. This means single storey flats or two storey maisonettes will need a mandatory licence if they are let to 5 or more people who form more than one household. There is an exception for purpose built flats situated in a block of three or more self-contained flats.
In addition, new mandatory licensing conditions will be introduced prescribing national minimum sizes for rooms used as sleeping accommodation, and requiring landlords to adhere to council refuse schemes.
This rule change applies to new and existing tenancies and those landlords affected are advised to apply for a mandatory licence now. If they haven’t applied by 1st October 2018 they will be committing a criminal offence.
When a council imposes a policy requiring other sizes of HMOs to also be licenced. For example, a council can bring in additional licensing requiring all HMOs to be licenced.
This is at the discretion of the borough and can affect all rental properties regardless of size, number of storeys, or number of occupants. For example, a council can instigate compulsory licensing of all residential rental properties within a street, ward or the whole borough.
Before granting a licence, the local authority must be satisfied that the owner and any managing agent of the property is fit and proper to hold a licence and that the property meets required physical standards.
If you are unsure whether your property requires a licence, please contact the local council directly to obtain clarification, ideally in writing.
Once granted the licence must be clearly displayed within the communal areas along with the name, address and telephone number of the licencee or property manager of the premises. A copy of the current gas safety certificate must also be on display.
If you are not sure whether it needs to be licenced then contact the local borough council in question - often their website contains the relevant information.
No. Landlords are not allowed to evict existing tenants in order to avoid licensing. Any attempt to get a tenant out of a property that should be licenced but isn't may be considered a crime under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, and the landlord or anyone else involved may be prosecuted. The Deregulation Act 2015 has also changed the law so a valid notice cannot be served to end a tenancy if the property should be licenced but isn't currently.
The council also has to carry out a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) risk assessment on a HMO within five years of receiving a licence application. If the inspector finds any unacceptable risks during the assessment then the landlord will be instructed to carry out works to eliminate them. The landlord must also notify the council if they plan to make changes to a HMO (structural or decorative), if the tenants make changes to the property, or if the tenants' circumstances change (e.g. they have a child).
The council must ensure that a licenced HMO is not overcrowded and has suitable shared amenities and facilities for the number of persons occupying it. If there are too many people living in the HMO at the time the licence is granted, the landlord must take reasonable steps to reduce the number of occupiers to the permitted number. Existing tenants will not normally be evicted. Instead, when they move out, it will be an offence for the landlord to allow new tenants to move in if that would bring the total number of occupiers above the maximum number allowed.
It is a criminal offence to operate a HMO that should be licenced but isn't and if convicted, the fines for non-compliance are unlimited.
Local authorities also have a range of other enforcement options including the power to vary the terms of a granted HMO licence or to revoke an HMO licence.
Under a rent repayment order, landlords may have to pay back to a tenant any rent they have received, or to the council any housing benefit they have received, up to a maximum 12 months. The tenancy itself will not be affected if the landlord has failed to apply for or obtain an HMO licence, although the council may take over the management of the property as another method of enforcement.
No, a tenant cannot withhold rent.
If a landlord or managing agent allows a HMO to be occupied by more people/households than it is licenced for then unless there is a reasonable excuse they are committing a criminal offence and the fines are unlimited. If the breach is serious or persistent the licence may be entirely revoked. If the council revokes a licence it must take over the HMO management.
If the council is unable to grant a licence for a HMO then it will need to take over the management responsibility for the property until circumstances change and it can then be licenced. There are special rules that apply when a council takes over the management of a HMO.
Whether or not the HMO is licenced it should be reasonably free from hazards that might affect a tenant's health and safety. The council is responsible for enforcing those standards and can require a landlord to take appropriate action to remedy any defects. In some emergency cases the council may do the works itself.
For further information, please see the Government booklet on HMOs (PDF).
The minimum standards applicable nationwide are:
Any part of a room where the ceiling height is less than 1.5m is not considered as usable floor space.
Minimum sleeping room sizes will apply to new HMO licence applications. In due course, all existing licences will also have to comply with these standards. Councils can also apply larger room size standards within their borough, but cannot set a standard lower than the above nationwide standards.
The best way to see the licensing requirements for your area is to go to your local council's website or get in touch with them directly.
Below are the contact details of the councils for the areas we cover:
020 8724 8898
020 8359 7462
Email not available
0208 308 7777
020 8937 2384
0300 303 8657
020 7974 4444
020 7606 3030
020 8726 6100 (ext. 61450)
020 8825 6655
020 8921 8157
01483 444 371
020 8356 4866
020 8753 1221
020 8489 1000
020 8901 2600
01708 434 343
01895 556 666
020 8583 3871
020 7527 3083
020 7361 3008
020 8547 5003
0207 926 4018
020 8314 6420
020 8545 3212
020 3373 1950
020 8708 4845
020 8487 5123
020 7525 4113
020 8770 5000
020 7364 5008
020 8496 3000
020 8871 6171
020 7641 8959
01483 755 855
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