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Private Rented Team
Plymouth City Council
Plymouth PL1 2AA
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01752 307075
Email :
private.rent@plymouth.gov.uk

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Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO)

What is a House in Multiple Occupation?

Generally a house in multiple occupation will be a property occupied by more than one household and more than two people, and may include bedsits, shared houses, non self contained flats and some self contained flats. A household is defined as being people who are linked by certain family relationships; house sharers (students) are typically unrelated individuals who, within housing law, comprise a number of households and occupy as an HMO.

Houses fully converted into self contained flats will generally not be HMOs provided that they were converted in accordance with the 'appropriate' Building Regulation standards. This will be, as a minimum, full compliance with the standards of the 1991 Building Regulations.

Generally the sole use of the property must be as an HMO, however the council may 'declare' a property to be an HMO where there is significant usage. This can apply to properties used as bed and breakfast establishments where some people live as their main home.

Houses in Multiple Occupation pose a greater risk to occupier health and safety. The independent nature of the separate households means that occupiers sometimes do not know everyone they are sharing with, and the risks of fire and infection are increased. There are Management Regulations, which set out the way in which such properties should be managed. In addition some, but not all, HMOs require to be licensed.

Examples of HMOs -

  • Houses occupied as individual bedsitting rooms
  • Shared houses and flats
  • Buildings converted into flats where one, or more, of the units is not fully self- contained, this could apply to a flat that is missing amenities, or the occupiers have to cross a common hallway to get from one room to another
  • Hostels
  • Guest houses that only provide for people with no other address

The following may be HMOs -

  • Houses arranged as fully self contained flats where less than two thirds of the flats are owner occupied
  • Guest houses that provide for the “tourist” trade as well as people with no other address
  • Any owner occupied building where the owner also lets it to lodgers or tenants

The following are not HMOs -

  • Buildings arranged as fully self contained flats where two thirds or more of the flats are owner occupied, however, a flat in such a house may be an HMO
  • Buildings converted into fully self contained flats where the works fully complied with the standards of the relevant Building Regulations. For HMOs converted before 1991 this means the 1991 Building Regulations, but for more modern conversions the regulations are those which applied at the time of the conversion. Please note that even if the building is not an HMO, a flat within it may still be an HMO
  • Accommodation owned or managed by certain public sector organisations

HMOs and planning permission

On 14 September 2012 an Article 4 Direction came into force in Plymouth in relation to the removal of permitted development rights for changes of use from C3 Dwellinghouse to C4 HMOs in the neighbourhoods of Beacon Park and Pennycross, City Centre, East End, Efford, Hartley and Mannamead, Higher Compton, Lipson and Laira, Mount Gould, Mutley and Greenbank, Peverell, Stoke and Stonehouse in the city of Plymouth.

The Article 4 Direction map below shows the specific area outlined in red.

The effect of the Direction is that, since 14 September 2012, planning permission is required from the Council for the change of use of a property, in the areas listed above, from a Dwelling house to a C4 HMO.

'C4' HMOs are small shared dwelling houses occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals, as their only or main residence, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom. Further information about the C4 use class is contained in Circular 08/2010 which is available from the Communities website.

Prior to the Direction, planning permission was not required from the Council for this type of change of use due to 'Permitted Development Rights'. The 'Article 4 Direction' removes the permitted development rights of properties in the areas specified and brings this change of use under the control of the Council.

The changes do not apply retrospectively to properties used as HMOs before the Direction came into force on 14 September 2012, although all properties within the Article 4 Direction area will have their permitted development rights removed for the type of development specified.

It remains possible for a C4 use to be changed back to a C3 use without requiring planning permission from the Council, and this has been the case since 6 April 2010. Change of use to HMOs with more than six unrelated individuals, or to separate flats or bedsits,still continues to require planning permission from the Council.

If a house falls within the Housing Act definition of HMO, it must comply with the Housing Act HMO requirements regardless of how it is considered under other legislation.

Listed buildings

If your property is a Listed Building you will need to get permission for any changes that may affect the character (whether internal or external, and usually includes outbuildings and other structures in the grounds of the house). This is required regardless of the existence of permission to use the house as an HMO.

If the property is in a Conservation Area there will be controls on changes to the external appearance. The Historic Environment Officer can advise and can be contacted on 01752 304414.

Landlord proficiency test

How good a landlord are you? Find out! It may also save you money on Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licensing fees… and the test is free.

Together with other councils across the South West, we are supporting the Landlord Proficiency Test. This was devised by the West of England Housing Group (the councils within the area of Bristol). Plymouth does not charge for this test.

You will be asked for your details after you pass the test; these will be passed onto us by email. You may also be asked to pay a fee for a certificate, but please ignore this. Although some councils within this scheme charge for a certificate, Plymouth does not charge (because we do not provide certificates).

The Landlord's Manual has the information needed to pass the test and help you manage your property. You can download this below, or if you prefer we can post you a hard copy. Please email us your request for this, together with your postal address.

Having passed the test, HMO licence holders qualify for a £30 discount off the licence fee. Please visit the HMO cost page for more information.

You may also be interested in Landlord Accreditation which offers similar benefits.

Standards in HMOs

The Housing Act requirements specific to HMOs are -

  • The management regulations apply to HMOs (these set out the duties of the ‘Manager’ of an HMO including those relating to safety, cleanliness and maintenance of the common parts of the house)
  • HMO Licensing, this applies to some HMOs; those occupied by five or more people where the HMO is arranged on three or more storeys, buildings converted into fully self contained flats are excluded from licensing. Plymouth only applies the basic 'mandatory' licensing scheme; some other councils have adopted 'additional' licensing schemes which are more inclusive.
  • Provisions for overcrowding

If you are aware of an HMO which you think may not be licensed, but you also think should be, please contact us.

What other standards apply to HMOs?

The requirements set out in the leaflet ‘Standards in Private Rented Accommodation’ apply to HMOs. All housing must comply with the safety requirements of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

The Council has adopted standards for amenities and room sizes which apply to both licensable and non licensable HMOs. Licensable HMOs must comply with this document. Non licensed HMOs can be required to comply with some aspects of the standards.

The HMO Standards for Bedsits and Shared student HMOs are derived from housing legislation. Apart from the licensing regulations, this applies to all HMOs regardless of their licensing status. As such, much of their content can be required in non licensable HMOs, although we would have to verify this on a case by case and issue by issue basis. Even when not enforceable, we would recommend that landlords comply with these standards in respect of all bedsit, flatlet and shared HMOs.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 may be used to deal with problems of noise and refuse.

Enforcement of HMO standards

We are responsible for enforcing housing standards in HMOs. Inspections may be part of an improvement programme, or they may follow a complaint.

Licensable HMOs are inspected either before the licence is granted or during the period of the licence.

We may also instigate programmes for the inspection of non licensable HMOs; these will target higher risk properties as selected using individual risk or area risk based assessment.

Wherever possible we will work with landlords to improve their property, but sometimes dialogue fails and we have to use our powers. The Council’s policies for enforcement reflect this.

What kind of problems are found in HMOs?

The following problems can occur -

  • Poor safety and physical standards. Inadequate and non fixed heating, lack of insulation, poor fire and electrical safety are key issues
  • Inadequate facilities for the number of people in the house
  • Poor management particularly of communal areas
  • Noise, nuisance and other antisocial behaviour
  • High levels of burglary

HMOs and housing need

HMOs are an important source of housing in the city, for example -

  • Students
  • Professional people looking for an independent home before buying
  • People working on fixed term contracts
  • People who cannot afford to buy a home of their own and are unable to access Social Housing
  • Homeless people in temporary accommodation

There is wide range of quality and rent levels across the HMO market.

Landlords advice - HMOs [365KB]

Houses in multiple occupation-guidance on standards and management [238KB]

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