With changes to the licencing of rental properties for Houses in Multiple Occupation, now in effect, Jonathon Waterhouse of law firm Stephenson, explains the details.

New HMO licensing is now in place, but as ever with Government regulation, the devil lies in the detail.

We've turned to expert Jonathon Waterhouse, a senior associate solicitor at national law firm Stephensons, to explain the ins and outs to landlords and tenants. 

Q. My property is less than three storeys. Do the new rules apply? 

A. Yes. The amended definition of a house in multiple occupation (HMO) no longer includes a requirement to be of a specific number of storeys to require a mandatory licence. 

Q. What is the new definition of a HMO that requires mandatory licencing? 

A. Any property occupied by five or more people, forming two or more separate households. The old definition included the words “and comprising of three or more storeys” but these words have now been removed.   

Q. What is a household?

A. Section 258 of The Housing Act 2004 defines a single household as a family being made up of either a couple (whether married or not and including same-sex couples) or persons related to one another. Relatives includes parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces or cousins, half-relatives and stepchildren.

Q. Is my current HMO licence still valid? 

A. Yes. Any current licence will be valid until the expiration date. The expiration date is usually five years from the date of issue.  

Q. My current HMO did not need a licence. Do I now need a licence? 

A. If the property is occupied by five or more people that together form two or more separate households, then it will now form part of the mandatory licencing scheme. 

Q. How do I get a licence?

A. The relevant licencing body is your local housing authority. Most authorities have details relating to their mandatory licencing scheme available via their website. Many websites have not yet been updated to reflect the new rules. 

Q. Is there a grace period for compliance? 

A. Yes. The local authorities are allowed to grant a grace period of up to 18 months to enable compliance. 

Q. Are there any other new licencing rules? 

A. Yes, the new rules implement minimum sleeping room sizes and a requirement to comply with the local authority waste disposal scheme. 

Q. What are the minimum sleeping room requirements? 

A. The minimum requirements for sleeping room for a person over 10 years of age is 6.51 square metres and a room for two persons over 10 years of age is 10.22 square metres. The minimum size for one child under the age of 10 years is 4.64 square metres. 

Q. Are the mandatory sleeping room size conditions standard across England? 

A. No, the sleeping room size requirements are a minimum standard. They are not intended to be optimal room sizes. Local Housing Authorities will have discretion to set their own higher standards within licence conditions. They are not able to set lower standards. 

Q. How will local authorities assess the minimum room size conditions? 

A. The Government guidance suggests that it is for the local authority to devise their own policies and procedures although it is expected that authorities may choose to inspect properties. 

Q. What are the waste disposal requirements? 

A. A mandatory condition of a licence is that a HMO must comply with the local authorities waste policy in relation to storing and disposal of waste. 

Q. I have a sleeping room below the minimum standard. What can I do? 

A. Properties could be altered or the sleeping room will need to be stopped from being used, otherwise it will be a breach of HMO licencing. This could be frustrating where non-compliance is only marginal but the new minimum standards must be complied with. 

Q. What are the penalties for breach of a HMO licence?

A. Failure to comply with new licencing requirements is a criminal offence and upon conviction would be liable to an unlimited fine. Alternatively, a local authority can impose a civil penalty of up to £30,000. 

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