Houses in multiple occupation are often a source of confusion and potential planning law problems.
A sudden HMO declaration, in particular, can be upsetting and disorientating for a property owner. What do you have to do? What steps do you have to take?
Fortunately, Kingsley Smith Solicitors can help with many of the issues around HMOs.
Need Help With HMO Planning?
If you need help with the law surrounding houses in multiple occupation, Kingsley Smith Solicitors are often able to help.
You may find that you need help very early on in the process, or very late. In all cases, it is better to get legal advice earlier on if you are unsure of the correct way forward. With HMO planning law, it is not easier to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission.
There are three main situations we encounter quite frequently that we can help with.
Setting Up An HMO
If you are setting up or enlarging an HMO, it is likely that you are looking for advice about what you can do to maximise your investment. In this situation, we can provide advice about what to do and how to do it. If your plans are delayed by a difficult planning situation, then where it is appropriate we can help with a planning application or appeal.
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Coping With Enforcement Officers And Notices
If you have been running an HMO independently and fallen foul of planning regulations and the local authorities, there's no need to panic. If your local authority is affecting the way you are able to run your HMO, we can provide independent advice and help you get back on track as quickly as possible.
While you are still getting visits from an Enforcement Officer, we can advise you what the best strategy and approach is for dealing with these visits. We can also negotiate with the Officer ourselves.
If you are, unfortunately, dealing with an Enforcement Notice related to an HMO, we can advise you and deal with the appeal. We can either take care of the appeal from start to finish, or provide advice along the way as required.
After An Enforcement Notice Appeal
If you have appealed against an Enforcement Notice and lost, you may find that you are being prosecuted for non-compliance with an Enforcement Notice. The stakes are highest at this stage, as being found guilty is not only a criminal offence, but carries with it an often-hefty fine, a liability to pay costs, and a confiscation order.
Again, even at this late stage we are able to work with you to get the best possible outcome.
To find out more about our services, use the "Ask Us A Free Legal Question" form on the right hand side of the page.
What Is An HMO?
An HMO is a house in multiple occupation, defined by the government as any property that is being rented to three or more occupants who are not from the same household.
More than one of these households must share an 'amenity' – such as kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities.
A 'household', in this sense, is either a single person, relatives or half-relatives, people in a relationship with each other, and step-parents, step-children or foster children.
A council may serve an "HMO Declaration" to bring a property within the HMO definition in certain circumstances, and there are some other building requirements that might change a building's status.
What Exemptions Are There?
There are some exemptions, for example, if the landlord is one of the people in an HMO with no more than two other persons, it is exempted. Similarly, if only two people live in an HMO, it is also exempted.
A social landlord, police authority, health service or fire and rescue service will also be exempted.
Some buildings occupied by students – for example, halls of residence – may be excluded. This exemption can trip people up, as it is not often the case that buildings occupied by students will count as anything other than an HMO. It is only buildings occupied by students who attend the same educational establishment that owns the building who qualify for this particular kind of exemption.
Buildings governed by other, usually more stringent, requirements will not be HMOs – for instance a care home will not be an HMO.
Also, certain religious institutions may be exempt.
What Other Legal Issues Might Arise For An HMO Landlord?
An HMO landlord might require a license if they run a Large HMO. If you do not have a license for your HMO, and your HMO falls into a category where a license is required, you may be prosecuted by the council and (separately) have to pay back some of the rent you have collected to your tenants at tribunals.
If you need a license, it is possible that you may not receive one. The council will assess your property to see if it is suitable for the number of people, managed properly, and that the manager is a fit and proper person to manage it.
You can also get into legal trouble as an HMO landlord in the following situations:
- The house is not suitable for the number of occupants (for instance, there may be too few toilet facilities)
- The manager has not got a clean criminal record, has breached landlord laws in the past, or has breached a landlord code of practice.
- You do not send the council an up to date gas certificate every year.
- You have not installed and/or maintained smoke alarms on the property.
- You are unable to provide, on request, safety certificates for all electrical appliances.
- You fail to meet additional standards imposed by the council.
If you disagree with the conditions imposed on you, you can appeal to a Residential Tribunal.
Your HMO must also meet particular standards relating to, for example, damp and mould growth or heating.
Breach of the HMO management regulations is one of the two most common reasons for landlords to be prosecuted, along with failure to comply with an improvement notice within the appropriate time period. They are not civil cases, but criminal cases – as such, they must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
What Is A Large HMO?
As discussed, a Large HMO requires that the property be licensed. A Large HMO is any HMO that is also rented to five or more people, at least three storeys high, and whose tenants share bathroom, toilet or kitchen facilities. Note that all of these conditions must apply for your property to be a Large HMO.
The license required for a Large HMO is called a mandatory license. However, you should bear in mind that there are cases where a property will be considered to be an HMO despite not fitting the criteria – this is called an additional license.
A license must be renewed every five years, and it must be renewed before it runs out – not immediately after.
HMO Improvement Notices
It is important to comply with properly served, written and issued Improvement Notices. Failure to do so may result in a fine and the requirement to pay costs.
Not all Improvement Notices are properly served, written, or issued, and in some of these cases it may be possible to contest an HMO improvement notice.
Improvement Notices are issued following a HHSRS inspection, and apply to more properties than just HMOs – but HMOs often come in for special scrutiny.
C3 To C4 Change Of Use
A change of use from a family home to an HMO – also known as a C3 to C4 change of use – might require planning permission, depending on multiple factors including the number of proposed tenants and the local authority.
Facing Legal Issues Over HMO Management?
Kingsley Smith Solicitors LLP are specialist planning law solicitors, and can help you with legal issues arising around HMO management. Find out more about planning law for businesses, developers and landlords.
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