During our workshops last year, we heard a handful of stories from Southwark renters. Many were about landlords being strict with the number of tenants residing at one property. But is the number of tenants co-sharing only a preference of the landlord?
While it is entirely possible that the landlord simply does not want a two-bedroom flat to be occupied by more than two or three people, the chances are that there are licensing restrictions. These are placed on the property and, subsequently, the landlord. Tenants might think they can make-do with sharing facilities and bedrooms as long as that makes their rent more affordable. However, the reality is that the property may not be suitable for multiple sharers. More so, if the property doesn’t meet a certain standard or does not have the correct license.
In this article, we will look at some of the frequently asked questions in regards to houses in multiple occupation. We will also discuss the standards that the property must meet in order to be suitable for flat shares.
I share my house with other people but I have a suspicion that my landlord doesn’t have a license. How do I check and what do I need to look out for?
First, regardless whether the property needs a selective, additional HMO or mandatory HMO, make sure that the landlord has given you all the mandatory documents. These are documents which the landlord must give you the start of the tenancy. They are:
- Deposit protection certificate, Prescribed Information Form and How To Rent Guide
- Gas safety certificate (*if the property has gas)
- EICR – electrical wiring safety certificate
- EPC certificate showing that the property’s energy efficiency rating is not lower than E
See the full document list under our tenancy checklist
Second, check what type of license the landlord requires. This can be easily done by counting people and households at the property you live in. We have written an article explaining how to do this here.
Third, visit the Council’s website to check if the property has a license. If it doesn’t, you can notify the Council. This is especially useful if your landlord is refusing to fix problems at your home or, worse, ignoring requests. If you think the property is below standard and have many repair problems, you can contact the Council. The Council is likely to help you get these fixed.
Ok, but my landlord has given me all the necessary documents at the start of the tenancy (as mentioned above). Is there anything else that the landlord needs to do?
Yes, there’s a lot more! The landlord is not just a person who collects rent and visits the property from time to time. They have to ensure that their property’s size is suitable for the number of people living in it. Also, that the property is safe from avoidable risks, for example, fire.
In summary, the landlord must ensure:
- That no room is used by more than the number of persons specified in the license;
- That all tenants are given a copy of the license;
- That carbon monoxide alarms are set up if the property has an open solid fuel appliance(s). For example, fireplaces, stoves or boilers;
- That every habitable room in the property has an acceptable level of natural daylight and ventilation;
- That PAT testing is carried out regularly. This is to ensure that all portable electrical appliances (for example, lamps, toaster, fridge) are safe to use;
- That any upholstered furniture (for example, sofa, beds, chairs) and mattresses are in safe condition and comply with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 and has all tags still attached to prove that the furniture is compliant;
- That the property has regular fire risk assessments. This includes ensuring that smoke alarms and fire equipment is in date and in working order, evacuation plans are visible and that the fire doors are not blocked or propped open;
- That the tenants are given info on how to dispose of garbage including recycling;
- That gardens and communal areas are free of waste;
- That the property is not altered without Council’s permission (for example, changes in property layout, use, or number of people living in it);
- That tenants can access obtain readings of the utility meters for the house at reasonable times.
What about the property size? Can my family of four live in a two-bedroom flat and still share the apartment with other sharers?
It depends on various factors such as the age of the tenants and size of the sleeping areas.
In HMOs, your landlord has to make sure that:
- Every room which is used for sleeping by one person is not less than 6.51 square meters (for a person aged 10+)
- Every room which is used for sleeping by two people is not less than 10.22 square meters (for a people aged 10+)
- Every room which is used for sleeping by one person is not less than 4.64 square meters (for a person under the age of 10)
- Rooms with less than 4.64 square meters of floor area cannot be used as a sleeping accommodation
- That the number of people specified in the license does not exceed the people in each room
This means that it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that people do not live in overcrowded conditions even if the tenants themselves don’t mind. Remember, it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that tenants live in safe and healthy environment.
While there is always some degree of risk with house sharing, a greater number of tenants co-residing also means that the landlord needs to think more carefully about health and safety. For example, the risk of a fire is much greater in flat shares due to multiple appliances being plugged in at the same time, or tenants using daisy-chains. Or, often a greater accumulation of garbage might mean that it cannot always be disposed of properly, creating a risk of vermin infestation.
I live in a flat with multiple other tenants and we all share the kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms. Some bedrooms in the house are occupied by families with children. Is this legal?
A property with five people or more who form at least two households and share facilities such as kitchen and bathroom will certainly need a mandatory HMO license. Visit the Council’s website to check if property has this license.
Further to all of the requirements that the landlord must follow (see above), mandatory HMOs also have even further requirements. These are:
- Ceiling heights
- Space standards
- Number of worktops, sinks, cookers, electrical sockets and cupboard spaces
- Size of bathtubs or shower room fittings
- Children in HMOs – for example, any child over the age of 8 should not be sharing a bedroom with their parents or another child of the opposite sex.
We will not bore you with measurements and details that may not apply. Nevertheless, the Council has published a 11-page long document listing all requirements under a link named HMO standards
What if my landlord has not followed the rules or does not have a license?
If found or reported, they will likely need to pay a fine. The fines for non-compliance can be as high as £5,000. Your landlord may also risk:
- losing their license (if they have one)
- be subjected to a penalty notice of up to £30,000.
You may also be entitled to a RRO (Rent Repayment Order) if you have lived in a property without a license.
We will discuss fines and Rent Repayment Orders in our subsequent articles.
My landlord doesn’t know that there are more people living in my property than listed on our tenancy agreement. Am I in trouble?
If you are subletting the apartment to other people, acting like a landlord and charging rent without the landlord’s knowledge, this is illegal. As you are profiting from other people and conducting business as the legal owner of the property when you are not, this could be viewed a fraud.
You may also be endangering the tenants by overcrowding the property and not taking the necessary health and safety precautions, possibly putting the health and lives of the tenants at risk. Furthermore, if the landlord happens to learn about your activities, it is likely that they may be sue and bring you to court.
I live in an HMO property, there are many of us sharing the house and facilities such as kitchen and bathroom. I am a good tenant and the landlord trusts me, so he has asked me to manage the property on his behalf. I act as the go-to person on day-to-day basis – I collect rent, advertise the rooms when they become vacant, fix things when needed. For doing so, I get my rent at a discounted price. It’s a good deal for me overall but is there anything I need to look out for?
Most certainly. Anyone looking after the property on behalf of the landlord may be regarded as a “managing agent”. Managing agents have a duty of care towards tenants and are, therefore, likely to be viewed accountable for anything that goes wrong with the property. Ask yourself – am I comfortable with taking on this responsibility? Am capable of carrying out the duties of a managing agent, for example, conduct a fire risk assessment correctly? Does the property have the right license and meet the HMO criteria? If the answer is no to any of these questions, we would suggest that you reconsider whether the extra responsibility is worth the risk. This is because the landlord may be trying to shift their responsibilities onto you. In other words, if the Council ever found out that the landlord was renting the property without a license or worse, if anything bad happened to the tenants and the property (e.g. injury or even death), the landlord may claim that it was the managing agent who was irresponsible and that the landlord themselves were not aware of any wrongdoing. Is the risk of having to argue against the Council and the landlord in court worth the discounted rent?
I live in a flat share and share my bedroom with members of my family. My family has recently grown from three people to four. My landlord has since sent me a Section 21, asking me to vacate. Is this legal?
If you are a tenant but the number of people at the property has grown, it is legal for your landlord to request that you or your co-tenants vacate the premises. Of course, the landlord still has to ensure that the Section 21 is served correctly.
Remember, the number of people at the property may not be suitable for the type of license that the landlord has. The landlord has to ensure that they do not break the licensing regulations and that the property is adequately big enough to house the number of people living in it. If the space is not big enough for a family of four and extra sharers, the landlord has every right to ask tenants to vacate.
Does HMO licensing apply to every home with multiple people living in them?
HMO licensing only applies to rented properties with 3 or more people forming two or more households. The licensing does not apply to hostels or temporary accommodation. It also does not apply to guests who might be staying with you for a short, temporary period when visiting.
You can read about types of licenses and how to count households here