A Practical Guide to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

Today we’re going to take a whistle stop tour of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), covering all the basic considerations you need to keep in mind if you’re looking to progress with one.

The process of changing your property from a Dwelling House to an HMO will vary depending on the council you are in, but regardless of this, there are a few key things you should be aware of.

So, what exactly is an HMO?

Essentially, an HMO is a property in which 3 or more tenants from more than one family live, sharing one or more facilities (for example a kitchen, toilet or bathroom).

These can include:

  • Houses converted to bedsits
  • Houses converted into flats that are not completely self-contained
  • Student houses that are not owned by a university or public body
  • Migrant worker residencies

Deciding whether your property meets the criteria for an HMO can be tricky, and as with many things within the town planning industry, there are a few grey areas. If you’re unsure as to where your property stands, the Barnes v Sheffield City Council (1995) 27 HLR 719 court case drew up a list of nine helpful criteria that may be able to help you decide.

  • the origin of the tenancy – whether the residents arrived as a single group or were independently recruited by the landlord;
  • the extent to which the facilities were shared;
  • whether the occupants were responsible for the whole house or just their particular rooms;
  • the extent to which residents can and do lock their doors;
  • the responsibility for filling vacancies – whether that of the existing occupants;
  • the allocation of rooms – whether by the occupants or the landlord;
  • the size of the establishment;
  • the stability of the group;
  • the mode of living – to what extent communal and to what extent independent.

When considering HMOs, there are three main property classes to be aware of:

  1. Class C3: Dwelling House
  2. Class C4: Small HMO – 3-6 residents
  3. Large HMOs (Sui-Generis) – more than 6 residents

Do I need Planning Permission for Change of use to a Class C4 Property?

If you’re looking to change your residential property for rental to multiple tenants sharing a facility or facilities, you may need to apply for HMO planning permission. However, this only generally applies if your council has introduced Article 4 Directions, removing the permitted development rights which allow a C3 (Dwelling House) property to be changed to a C4 (HMO) without planning permission, subject to conditions. Obtaining a change of use from a C3 to C4 property in one of these areas does therefore require a planning fee payable to the relevant Council of £462 (at present).

Sometimes applications to change the use of a property to a HMO are not straightforward applications as Article 4 Directions are generally put in place to ensure that there is a balance in housing stock and too many HMO’s in an area can be problematic with the following being raised as potential issues:

  • loss of local character
  • loss of single family dwelling houses
  • reduction in environmental quality
  • increased noise complaints
  • increased anti-social behaviour
  • increased levels of crime
  • increased pressures on car parking
  • dominance of private renting
  • increased pressure upon local services
  • poor standards of accommodation

If you do not live in an article 4 area, planning permission will generally not be required, however you may still need to apply for Building Regulations Approval, which will involve your property being assessed to ensure it meets the correct fire safety standards.

What About Changing From C3 to a Large HMO?

If you plan to change your property from Class C3 to a Large HMO housing more than 6 residents, you will need to seek planning permission as there are no permitted development rights for change of use from C3 to Sui-Generis HMO.

Also you may require planning permission to change from a small scale to a large scale HMO – depending on if a material change of use has occurred, this is a very grey area of planning – so do check before you make any changes.

Does my Property Need to be Licensed?

This is very separate to the planning process, but not always.  HMO licensing is mandatory in properties which are occupied by 5 or more people. The Government has produced a Guide for HMO Licensing. In these cases, licencing is mandatory to help protect vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals by ensuring adequate health and safety standards are upheld.

However, a Council can choose to license all privately rented properties, this is called ‘Selective Licensing’ or license HMOs in all or specific areas, this is called ‘Additional Licensing’. It is always advisable to check with your local Council as if you rent your property without the necessary licence, you could be fined up to £20,000.

I’ve changed my property to a HMO without permission – what do I do?

If you have a property that has been used as a HMO, but doesn’t have planning approval or is now located within an Article 4 Direction area it maybe possible to obtain a Lawful Development Certificate to confirm the HMO use is lawful. These certificates can be useful should you sell the property.  Our Practical Guide to Certificate of Lawful Development can give you basic information on the process, however this is a complex are of planning where you may need professional town planning help.

How can Planning House Help?

If you are in need of further assistance with anything related to HMO planning, a town planner can provide you with the guidance you need for a smooth transition please feel free to CONTACT US to discuss your situation.

If you’re not sure we’re the right fit for you then take a look at our blog on When to Hire a Town Planner and our download on choosing a Town Planner to help you find a town planner that’s right for you.


Related Content:

Take a look at our eBook on Application Process for more details on the planning process.

Knowing your options should you receive a refusal for your planning proposals is important, guess what…we’ve covered this in an eBook about Appeals.