House in multiple occupation (HMOs)

House in multiple occupation (HMOs)


What is a 'house in multiple occupation' (HMO)?

Generally, in England and Wales, a property is classed a HMO if all of the following apply:

  • It has 3 or more storeys (including habitable attics or basements).
  • It is rented to 5 or more individuals.
  • The individuals make up 2 or more 'families' – a 'family' could mean a single person or a cohabitating couple (whether or not of the opposite sex).

Even if the property is smaller and rented to fewer people, you may still need to get a licence depending on the area. You should check with the local council where the property is situated.

In Northern Ireland, a house in multiple occupation is a house occupied by two or more persons, being persons who are not all members of the same family (i.e. student housing).

In Scotland, a house in multiple occupation is the only or principal residence of 3 or more qualifying persons from 3 or more families.

Mandatory HMO licensing

In England and Wales, on 6 April 2006 mandatory HMO licensing came into force across

England pursuant to the Housing Act 2004 Parts 2 and 3 (the Act).

In Northern Ireland, in January 2006 a mandatory HMO statutory registration scheme came into force pursuant to Part III of the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 (the Order).

In Scotland, on 1 October 2000 mandatory HMO licensing came into force across Scotland pursuant to the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation) Order as amended.

Failure to apply for a licence (England & Wales)

In England and Wales, failure to apply for a licence is a criminal offence and can result in an unlimited fine. In certain cases, rent from housing benefit or paid by tenants themselves can be reclaimed if a landlord is found to be operating a licensable HMO without a licence. It can also result in the landlord being unable to recover possession.

Failure to register (Northern Ireland)

In Northern Ireland, the requirement to register a property under the HMO Statutory Registry Scheme is not yet in force throughout the whole of Northern Ireland. However, where there is a requirement to register, failure to do so or failure to comply with the procedure for registration (i.e. failure to provide information) is a criminal offence and is punishable by a fine of up to £10,000. However, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is currently lobbying to increase this to £20,000.

If you are in any doubt as to whether a property should be registered under the scheme, you should contact your local Housing Executive office for further advice.

Failure to apply for a licence (Scotland)

In Scotland, failure to apply for a licence is a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to £50,000.

Excluded properties

If you think your property may need licensing (or registration in Northern Ireland) or if you need advice, you should contact your local authority, or if in Northern Ireland, your local Housing Executive office.

Keep in mind that the Act and Order exclude certain types of properties from being classified as HMOs. These properties will not require a licence or registration and include:

England and Wales:

  • Buildings, or parts of buildings, occupied by no more than 2 people.
  • Properties managed or owned by a public body or a registered social landlord.
  • Residential accommodation which is secondary to the principal use of the building, for example, religious establishments, conference centres etc.
  • Student halls of residence, where the universities are specified as exempt by order.
  • Buildings regulated by other acts of parliament such as care homes, bail hostels etc.
  • Buildings occupied entirely by freeholders or residents with long leases.

Northern Ireland:

  • Residential homes, within the meaning of the Registered Homes (NI) Order 1992
  • Children's homes or community homes within the meaning of the Children (NI) Order 1995
  • Boarding schools
  • Any building or part of a building which is occupied principally for the purposes of a religious community whose principal occupation is prayer, contemplation, education or the relief of suffering
  • Properties owned by the Housing Executive
  • Any HMO which is occupied by persons who comprise no more than 2 families
  • Any HMO which is occupied by no more than 2 persons in addition to the owner (or owners) and members of the family (or families) of owner(s).


  • Properties where all the occupants (or at least 1 member of each family) are owners
  • Properties owned by communal groups, established as a co-operative housing association, the management of which is undertaken by general meeting
  • Properties occupied by members of a religious order
  • Crown property
  • Accommodation provided as part of a service registered with the Care Commission as:
    • A care home service
    • An independent health care service
    • A school Care accommodation service
    • A secure accommodation service

Temporary exemption from licensing (England & Wales)

An owner or manager of an HMO may apply to the local authority for a Temporary Exemption Notice (TEN). If a TEN is granted, the property is exempt from licensing and accordingly the manager/owner does not commit a criminal offence of operating an HMO without a licence.

A local authority may only grant a TEN if it is satisfied that the applicant is, or will shortly be, taking steps to ensure the HMO ceases to be subject to licensing; for example, if planning permission has been obtained for the conversion of the property into a single family residence.

A TEN can only be granted for a maximum period of 3 months, but in exceptional circumstances, the local authority may issue a second TEN to last a further 3 months following the expiry of the original. No more than 2 consecutive TENs may be granted in succession for a given property. In other words, the maximum amount of time that you can have an exemption is 6 months. If a local authority refuses to grant a TEN, the applicant may appeal to the Residential Property Tribunal, which can either uphold the local authority's decision or reverse it.