In England and Wales, in general terms, properties which comprise 3 or more storeys (including habitable attics or basements) and are rented to 5 or more individuals, which includes 2 or more families (including single persons and cohabiting couples (whether or not of the opposite sex), may be classed as houses in multiple occupation.
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.
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.
In England and Wales, failure to apply for a licence is a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to £20,000. 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.
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.
In Scotland, failure to apply for a licence is a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to £50,000.
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:
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.