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A house in multiple occupation (HMO) is a property where several households live together and share common facilities. HMOs are subject to specific rules. If you are considering renting out a property to multiple tenants (known as ‘contract holders’ in Wales), make sure you comply with the legal requirements relating to HMOs. For the avoidance of doubt, references to ‘tenants’ also apply to ‘contract holders’ unless otherwise specified. Read this guide to find out more about HMOs.

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A property is an HMO if:

  • there are at least 3 tenants in the property, who form more than one household, and
  • the tenants share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet

A property is a large HMO if both of the following apply:

  • at least 5 tenants live at the property, forming more than one household, and
  • the tenants share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities

A household is formed by either:

  • a single person, or
  • members of the same family who live together (including couples, relatives, half-relatives, step-parents and step-children)

For example, your house is probably an HMO if you live in a flatshare with three other people, each of them having their own room, and you share basic amenities such as cooking facilities and a bathroom. Other examples of HMOs include hostels or shared accommodation for students.

Renting out an HMO requires additional responsibilities from the landlord. In particular, the landlord is responsible for:

  • putting in place proper fire safety measures (including smoke alarms). In Scotland, this also includes providing fire extinguishers, fire blankets and fire escape routes. For more information, read Fire safety in HMOs
  • carrying out gas safety checks yearly and electricity checks every five years (or every three years in Scotland)
  • ensuring that communal areas are clean and in good repair (however, in Scotland, this responsibility can be passed to the tenants in the tenancy agreement)
  • any repairs to the communal areas of the property (eg sinks, baths or toilets)
  • any repairs to the structure of the house (ie walls, windows and gutters)
  • any repairs related to the supply of water, gas and electricity (eg damaged gas pipes and broken heaters)

In England and Wales

When the property is a large HMO, the landlord must get a licence from the local council. A large HMO is one that meets the requirements as set out above.

Further requirements include conditions that the floor area used as sleeping accommodation by one person over 10 in an HMO in one room must not be less than 6.51 square metres. Bedrooms used by two people over 10 must be at least 10.22 square metres while bedrooms used by under-10s cannot be smaller than 4.64 square metres. Note that some councils may set higher standards for bedroom sizes.

Some councils also require other HMOs to be licensed, even if the property is smaller or rented to fewer people. When deciding whether to issue a licence, the council will check that the property meets an acceptable standard (eg whether the property is large enough for the occupants and is well managed). It may also consider whether the landlord is a 'fit and proper' person. For further information, read Selective licensing.

If you are a landlord and want to know whether your HMO needs a licence, you should check with your Local Authority for their policies on HMOs, as there are large fines for non-compliance.

Licences usually last for 5 years but some councils grant them for shorter periods of time.

In Scotland

In Scotland, landlords must have a licence for all HMOs. If you rent out an unlicensed HMO property, you could be fined up to £50,000. The local council issues HMO licences and it will carry out a number of checks before doing so, including:

  • that you’re ‘fit and proper’ to hold a licence (ie no criminal convictions for fraud or theft)

  • that you manage the property properly (ie you carry out your responsibilities as a landlord and respect the tenants’ legal rights)

  • that the property meets the HMO standards (eg the bedrooms must be of adequate size, the property should be secure and adequate fire safety and security measures must be in place)

Licences usually last for 3 years and they must be renewed before they expire.

In England and Wales, landlords who do not comply with licensing requirements can be subject to a fine and can be ordered to repay up to 12 months' rent. This is called a rent repayment order. In addition, if an HMO should be licensed but isn’t, a section 21 notice to repossess property won't be valid.

In Scotland, failing to comply with licensing requirements can result in a fine of up to £10,000. Your licence may also be revoked and you could be ordered to fix any problems with the property.

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