Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)
This content applies to Scotland only.
Housing laws vary between Scotland and England. Get advice relating to England
If you are living in a bedsit, shared flat, lodging, shared house, hostel or bed and breakfast accommodation it's likely that you'll be living a house in multiple occupation or 'HMO'.
What is an HMO?
An HMO is a property that is shared by three or more tenants who aren't members of the same family. HMO landlords must have a licence from the council. This ensures that the property is managed properly and meets certain safety standards.
Do I live in an HMO?
It's likely that you live in an HMO if:
- you live with two or more other people, and
- you don't belong to the same family, and
- you share some facilities, e.g. a bathroom or kitchen, and
- the accommodation is your only or main home (if you are a student, your term-time residence counts as your main home).
If you live with a homeowner then them and their family don't count as 'qualifying persons' when deciding whether or not a property is an HMO. So for example, if you share accommodation with the owner and one other unrelated lodger, you won't live in an HMO. If you live with the owner and two other unrelated lodgers, you will live in an HMO.
You probably live in an HMO if you live in:
- a shared flat or house
- a bedsit
- a hostel
- halls of residence for students or nurses
- boarding houses
- hotels or bed and breakfasts with permanent residents
- some supported accommodation, such as foyers or 'move on' accommodation for homeless people.
You probably don't live in an HMO if you live in:
- a residential or nursing home
- a monastery, a convent or other religious community.
How do I find out my property has an HMO license?
To find out whether a property has an HMO licence, ask your landlord or contact your local council. They have a list of all the licensed landlords in their area.
How does HMO licensing work?
Before the council gives a landlord an HMO licence, it will carry out the following checks:
Is the landlord is a fit and proper person to hold a licence?
Before it will grant an HMO licence, the council must check that the owner and anyone who manages the property (for example, a letting agent) don't have any criminal convictions, for example, for fraud or theft.
Is the property managed properly?
The council must check that your landlord respects your legal rights as a tenant. You should be given a written tenancy agreement stating clearly what your landlord's responsibilities are, and what your responsibilities are. This should cover things like rent, repairs and other rules.
To manage the property properly, your landlord must:
- keep the property and any furniture and fittings in good repair
- deal with you fairly and legally when it comes to rent and other payments, for example they:
- not evict you illegally
- make sure that their tenants don't annoy or upset other people living in the area.
Does the property meet the required standards?
To meet the standards expected of an HMO property:
- the rooms must be a decent size, for example, every bedroom should be able to accommodate a bed, a wardrobe and a chest of drawers.
- there must be enough kitchen and bathroom facilities for the number of people living in the property, with adequate hot and cold water supplies.
- adequate fire safety measures must be installed, for example your landlord must provide smoke alarms and self-closing fire doors and make sure there is an emergency escape route.
- all gas and electrical appliances must be safe.
- heating, lighting and ventilation must all be adequate.
- the property should be secure, with good locks on the doors and windows.
- there must be a phone line installed so that tenants can set up a contract with a phone company to supply the service.
The Scottish Government has published guidelines for landlords which covers HMO standards.
What are my landlord's responsibilities?
In order to keep their HMO licence, your landlord must maintain the property properly:
- Common parts - these must be kept clean and in good repair (for example, the stairwell, hall, shared kitchen and bathroom). However, the landlord can include a clause in the tenancy agreement which passes this responsibility onto the tenants.
- Shared facilities - these should be kept in good repair (for example, the cooker, boiler, fridge, sinks, bath and lighting)
- Heating, hot water and ventilation - these facilities must all be kept in good order
- Gas safety - all gas appliances and installations must be safe (for example, a gas fire, boiler or cooker) - these should be checked once a year by a Gas Safe Register engineer
- Electrical safety - all electrical appliances and installations must be safe - these should be tested every three years by a contractor approved by the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) or SELECT, Scotland's trade association for the electrical, electronics and communications systems industry
- Fire precautions - all fire precautions (for example, smoke alarms and fire extinguishers) must be in good working order and that the fire escape route is kept safe and free from obstructions
- Furniture - all furniture supplied must meet safety standards (for example, isn't flammable)
- Roof, windows and exterior - these must all be adequately maintained
- Rubbish - enough rubbish bins must be provided
- Deposits - your deposit must be returned within a reasonable time when you move out, preferably within 14 days.
Your landlord should also put up notices in the accommodation:
- giving the name and address of the person responsible for managing it so that you can contact them whenever necessary
- explaining what you should do in an emergency, for example if there is a gas leak or a fire.
What are my responsibilities?
Tenants also have responsibilities:
- Repairs - you should let your landlord know if anything in the property needs repairing, particularly if this is something they are responsible for keeping in good order, such as the roof, boiler or toilet
- Damage - you must take good care of the property and try not to damage anything
- Rubbish - not let rubbish pile up in or around the property but dispose of it properly in the bins provided
- Inspections - let the landlord inspect the property so they can check whether any maintenance work needs doing. Normally this should happen once every six months. Your landlord must give you 24 hours' written notice before coming round.
- Behave responsibly - make sure that you don't behave in a way that can annoy or upset your neighbours. Your landlord is responsible for dealing with any complaints made by your neighbours and must take action if they are unhappy with your behaviour.
What if standards aren't being met?
If you don't think your landlord is managing the property properly and maintaining these standards, there are two steps you can take:
- talk to your landlord - they may not realise that there is a problem until you discuss it with them.
- tell your local council - they have powers to make your landlord bring the management and physical conditions of the HMO up to standard.
Usually, the council department responsible for HMOs is the environmental health department. Contact your local council to talk to an environmental health officer about your complaint. If you don't want your landlord to know that you have complained, let the officer know, and they will then keep your complaint in the strictest confidence.
What can the council do?
After you've complained, an officer should visit the property to inspect it. If they decide that your landlord is failing to comply with HMO standards, they can:
- write to the landlord or manager of the accommodation and give them a list of what needs to be done
- serve a legal (amenity) notice telling the landlord or manager that they must do certain things to rectify the bad conditions
- arrange for the council to carry out any necessary repairs and then get the money back from the landlord
- prosecute the landlord for breaking the conditions of their licence. The landlord can be fined and their licence can be suspended or revoked.
What if the council won't help?
If you think that your local council hasn't dealt with your complaint in a satisfactory way you can:
- speak to an adviser who may be able to organise a judicial review of the council's decision not to act against your landlord
- appeal to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
- complain to your local councillor, you can get their details from your local council's website.
Can I take my landlord to the Private Rented Housing Panel?
If you have an assured, short assured or regulated tenancy or you live in tied accommodation, you can report your landlord to the Private Rented Housing Panel (PRHP) if you believe your home doesn't meet the repairing standard.
What happens when my landlord needs to renew their licence?
When your landlord applies for an HMO licence or applies to renew their licence, they must put a notice outside the property for 21 days to let the neighbours know. If anyone living in the area isn't happy about the HMO, they can submit their objection to the council. The Scottish Government has produced information for HMO neighbours which explains the objection process. If there is an objection, the council won't necessarily turn down the application. It will take into account all the information it has about the HMO and then decide whether the objection is reasonable.
The property may be inspected by officers from the council, and possibly by the fire brigade as well, to check it meets the necessary standards. You should get 24 hours' notice before this inspection is carried out. The officers may also write to you to ask how the property is managed and whether you have any complaints. If you are unhappy about anything, the council will take this into account when looking at your landlord's application. It shouldn't let your landlord know that you made the complaint.
The council can take up to a year to decide whether or not to grant a licence. During this time, your landlord must put right anything about the property that isn't up to standard.
What happens if my landlord's licence is suspended or revoked?
If your landlord's licence is suspended or taken away, they will no longer be able to use the property as an HMO. This means you may have to move out. However, if the fixed period of your lease has not yet expired, your landlord cannot make you leave until it expires. So for example, if you have rented a room in an HMO for a year but your landlord's licence was revoked after two months, you would be able to stay for the remaining ten months, provided the property was safe for you to live in.
If the council decides that the property is not safe (for example, because it does not meet fire safety regulations), it will be responsible for helping you find somewhere else to live.
Your landlord must give you the correct notice before you have to leave - go to the section on eviction to find out how much notice you should get.
What if an HMO doesn't have a licence?
It is a criminal offence for your landlord to operate an HMO without a licence, and they could face a fine of up to £50,000. If the council thinks that a property is being run as an unlicensed HMO, they can inspect it without giving any warning. If you think that the HMO you are living in may be unlicensed, you should report your landlord to your local council.