Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)

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 in a 'house in multiple occupation' or HMO.

HMOs explained

An HMO is a property that is shared by three or more people who are members of more than two 'families'.

A couple do not need to be married or in civil partnership to be considered a 'family' under these rules.

For example:

  • a home shared by two couples would not be an HMO

  • a home shared by three single people who are not related to each other would be an HMO

HMO landlords must have a licence from the council. This ensures that the property is managed properly and meets certain safety standards.

An HMO license is separate from the tenancy agreement you will have with your landlord. Check your tenancy type to find out what kind of tenancy agreement you have.

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

  • in total there are more than two 'families' in the home, and

  • you share some facilities, e.g. a bathroom or kitchen, and

  • the accommodation is your only or main home (if you're a student, your term-time residence counts as your main home)

You probably do not live in an HMO if you live in:

  • a residential or nursing home

  • a monastery, a convent or other religious community

Living with the homeowner

If you live with the homeowner their family don't count when deciding how many 'families' live in the HMO.

If you share accommodation with the owner and one other 'family' you won't live in an HMO.

If you live with the owner and two other 'families', you will live in an HMO.

HMO licenses

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.

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 do not have any relevant criminal convictions.

Is the property managed properly?

The council can 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.

Your landlord must:

  • keep the property and any furniture and fittings in good repair

  • give the correct notice and get permission from all the tenants if they want to access the property, including communal areas

  • make sure that their tenants do not annoy or upset other people living in the area

  • deal with you fairly and legally when it comes to rent and other payments, for example, when increasing your rent

It’s against the law for landlords to harass you or force you out.

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.

Your landlord's responsibilities

In order to keep their HMO licence, your landlord must maintain the property properly.

Notices your landlord should put up

1. Contact details of the person responsible for managing the property.

2. Instructions explaining what to do in an emergency, for example, if there is a gas leak or a fire.

Tenant responsibilities

If standards aren't being met by your landlord

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.

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:

  • appeal to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

  • complain to your local councillor, you can get their details from your local council's website

  • organise a judicial review of the council's decision not to act against your landlord

Can I take my landlord to The Housing and Property Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal?

If your landlord is not keeping the property in good repair you may be able to report your landlord to The Housing and Property Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal. Find more information about this on our pages about 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. 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.

If you are unable to find new accommodation, you may have to apply to your local council as homeless.

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.

Problems in your tenancy

If you live in a HMO you will also have the same rights as other tenants. These rights depend on your tenancy agreement.

What kind of tenancy do I have?

Our quick and easy tenancy checker can help you to work out which one you are likely to have.

What kind of tenancy do I have?

Find out how to resolve the most common problems on our section Renting from a private landlord

If you need housing advice, contact us for free.

Last updated: 3 March 2021

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