What will the council take into account when deciding whether or not to grant a licence?
- The suitability of the HMO for the number of occupiers
- The suitability of the facilities within the HMO, such as toilets, bathrooms and cooking facilities
- The suitability of the landlord and/or the managing agent to manage the HMO (this is called the "fit and proper" test)
- The general suitability of existing management arrangements of the property
The council also has to carry out a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) risk assessment on a HMO within five years of receiving a licence application. If the inspector finds any unacceptable risks during the assessment then the landlord will be instructed to carry out works to eliminate them. The landlord must also notify the council if they plan to make changes to a HMO (structural or decorative), if the tenants make changes to the property, or if the tenants' circumstances change (e.g. they have a child).
The council must ensure that a licenced HMO is not overcrowded and has suitable shared amenities and facilities for the number of persons occupying it. If there are too many people living in the HMO at the time the licence is granted, the landlord must take reasonable steps to reduce the number of occupiers to the permitted number. Existing tenants will not normally be evicted. Instead, when they move out, it will be an offence for the landlord to allow new tenants to move in if that would bring the total number of occupiers above the maximum number allowed.
What happens if a landlord doesn't apply for a licence?
It is a criminal offence to operate a HMO that should be licenced but isn't and if convicted, the fines for non-compliance are unlimited.
Local authorities also have a range of other enforcement options including the power to vary the terms of a granted HMO licence or to revoke an HMO licence.
Under a rent repayment order, landlords may have to pay back to a tenant any rent they have received, or to the council any housing benefit they have received, up to a maximum 12 months. The tenancy itself will not be affected if the landlord has failed to apply for or obtain an HMO licence, although the council may take over the management of the property as another method of enforcement.
Can a tenant withhold rent if the landlord has not applied for a licence?
If a landlord or managing agent allows a HMO to be occupied by more people/households than it is licenced for then unless there is a reasonable excuse they are committing a criminal offence and the fines are unlimited. If the breach is serious or persistent the licence may be entirely revoked. If the council revokes a licence it must take over the HMO management.
What happens if the council refuses to grant a licence?
If the council is unable to grant a licence for a HMO then it will need to take over the management responsibility for the property until circumstances change and it can then be licenced. There are special rules that apply when a council takes over the management of a HMO.
What happens if the conditions in a HMO are poor?
Whether or not the HMO is licenced it should be reasonably free from hazards that might affect a tenant's health and safety. The council is responsible for enforcing those standards and can require a landlord to take appropriate action to remedy any defects. In some emergency cases the council may do the works itself.
For further information, please see the Government booklet on HMOs (PDF).