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HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION, ADVICE ON HMOs FROM LETTINGFOCUS.COM

We explain the basics about houses in multiple occupation or HMOs & how the rules affect landlords.


Landlord expert David Lawrenson says, "The Housing Act regulations on the licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) for England and Wales affect all landlords with an HMO."


STANDARDS IN HMOs

The HMO management standards set out the standards for ALL HMOs including the smaller HMOs in England and Wales which don’t currently need a licence under the new rules.

The larger licensible HMOS in England and Wales (and all HMOs in Scotland and Northern Ireland plus any areas in England and Wales where licensing has been extended) may, in addition to the new management standards, have to meet some new, additional regulations relating to special "amenity standards"   - standards which must have made the UK’s army of plumbers lick their lips.

These say that for licensible HMOs, landlords may have to install new washbasins.

Without doubt these new rules were among the most contentious of anything in the Housing Act.

But first, let’s have a look at the amenity standards which apply to ALL HMOs starting with the least contentious ones first.

For kitchens, the HMO managment standards say that there must be sufficient sinks with draining boards as well as equipment for cooking food, electrical sockets, cupboards, freezer space and refrigerators as well as extractor fans, fire blankets and fire doors. So, nothing too contentious there.



HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUAPTIONS AND WASH BASINS

Similarly, in relation to washing facilities, most decent HMO landlords had no problem with the rules that said if there are four or less occupiers there must be at least one bathroom with bath or shower and one toilet (which can be located in the bathroom.)

The standards go on to say that there must be enough fire precaution facilities and equipment, that each unit of living accommodation should be adequately heated, baths, showers and wash hand basins must have hot and cold running water.

In addition, bathrooms in HMOs must be heated and properly ventilated. Finally, bathrooms and kitchens must be of suitable size and layout.

Again, most landlords would not have a problem with any of this.

However, it is where there are 5 or more occupiers that the new regulations got much more troublesome.  

Here, word for word is the detail of what the rules say….

“Where there are five or more occupiers sharing (those) facilities there must be – 1) One separate toilet with wash hand basin with appropriate splash back for every five sharing occupiers AND 2) a) At least one bathroom (which may contain a toilet) with a fixed bath or shower for every five sharing occupiers AND b) Where there are five or more occupiers of an HMO, every unit of living accommodation must contain a wash hand basin with splash back.”

 

UNIT OF ACCOMMODATION

Translated into layman’s language this means there must be one separate toilet (which should also have a hand wash basin) and at least separate one bathroom for every 5 occupiers AS WELL AS a sink or washbasin in each “unit of living accommodation.”

Unit of accommodation has been defined to mean in this context, a bedroom.

Many landlords faced real problems complying with this - not least the huge cost in installing and laying new pipe work for hot and cold taps, run off pipes and for the wash basins themselves.

Properties would also become un-saleable to anyone other than other HMO providers, thus reducing their value.

Luckily, the more sensible voices in some local authorities were also concerned that thousands of landlords would give up and sell up, forcing many house sharers onto council waiting lists.



ABOUT TURN ON HMO RULES

Fortunately, in 2007, the government relented (a bit) and left it up to the local authorities to decide whether to enforce the wash basin rule.

How this plays out will depend upon each local authority and landlords should see exactly what approach is currently being taken locally by their local council.

So, if your local authority enjoys landlord bashing, you could be in for a tough time. If this sounds like your local authority you could look at whether you could start letting to whole families, thus avoiding the HMO rules altogether.

 

PLANNING PERMISSION AND HMOS

Historically, HMOs could be created without the need for planning permission but it has now been made easier for local authorities to use planning laws to restrict HMOs – through a mechanism called an Article 4 Direction.

Article 4 Directions remove permitted development rights in a specific geographical area and requires planning permission for the creation of all new HMOs.

These Directions are most likely to be used and applied in towns and cities that have a high proportion of shared housing e.g. university towns or areas with a large number low income households.

HMOs and the regulation thereof is a moving topic and the government will continue to intervene in this part of the market.

Read our other article on HMOs and licensing for more on when and how HMOs are licensed and when landlords need to be registered and ask us for advice on this complex area of lettings.


ABOUT DAVID LAWRENSON AND LETTINGFOCUS

At LettingFocus.com our main work is our consultancy role in which we help organisations and public bodies with their products and services for the private rented sector. If you are from an organisation go to our home page: LETTING FOCUS HOME PAGE.

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Copyright 2011 David Lawrenson. This article must not be copied or re-used without the author and copyright owner’s prior permission. 

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