Houses in multiple occupation

The definition of a house in multiple occupation (HMO) under the Housing Act 2004 is as follows:

A HMO is a building or part of a building (eg a flat):

  • in which more than one household resides as their only or main residence and shares an amenity e.g. kitchen or bathroom
  • which is a converted building that does not entirely comprise self-contained flats

A household is defined as either a single person or members of the same family who are living together.

HMO landlords must comply with the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006, which stipulate the roles and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants.

Changes to Mandatory HMO Licensing

The Government is planning to extend mandatory licensing for Houses in Multiple Occupation. At present mandatory HMO licensing is restricted to properties that are three or more storeys, containing five or more people in two or more households with shared facilities such as a kitchen, bathroom or toilet. Under the new plans the Government intends to make the following changes through secondary legislation:

  • Remove the storey rule so all houses with 5 or more people forming 2 or more households will become mandatory licensable
  • Extend mandatory licensing to flats above and below business premises (regardless of storeys)
  • Set a minimum size of 6.52sq-m for a single room and 10.23 sq-m in line with the existing overcrowding standard (Housing Act 1985) but allowing the local authority to retain the ability to set a higher standard.
  • Tightening up the ‘fit and proper person’ test for landlords and ensuring criminal record checks are carried out

The Government released a consultation paper in November 2016 regarding the decision to extend mandatory licensing. The consultation was to gather views on the proposed changes and to help ensure that once the legislation is implemented it is clear. It is likely the results of the consultation will be released next year along with the secondary legislation.

Where a landlord fails to obtain a licence they could be liable to pay a potentially unlimited fine. It is likely the changes will be implemented in either April or October 2017. Further information can be found at

Extending Mandatory Licensing

Government Consultations

HMO Amnesty

Cambridge City Council is holding a two-month HMO licence amnesty as part of a new project to drive up standards within the City. During this time landlords who own a licensable property are being urged to come forward and make an application without the fear of prosecution. It is broadly aimed at landlords who may not have originally realised there legal obligation and are now nervous about coming forward. Landlords who apply for a licence before 28th February 2017 will not face legal action for not previously having held a licence. Cambridge City Council has recently released a new reporting tool on their website making it easier for the public or concerned tenants to raise concerns if they think an HMO may be operating illegally. Landlords who fail to obtain a licence when they should have one could face an unlimited fine.  

Properties which are required by law to be licenced include any HMO which is three or more floors and five or more occupants forming two or more households with shared facilities. When calculating the number of floors, you include any business premises on the ground floor. Landlords who are in doubt should come forward and a member of the Residential Team will be able to offer advice.

Licensable HMOs are those deemed as ‘high risk’. The biggest risk associated with a HMO is the increased chance of fire due to frequent use of kitchen facilities, increased use of electrical appliances and overloaded electrical sockets. Lack of a fire alarm system and fire doors also increases the threat to tenants' safety.

Avoid legal action

To avoid legal action, landlords should apply for a licence as soon as possible. Details on how to apply are available on the Councils Website or by calling 01223 458050 Monday to Friday. Alternatively you can email Residential.eh@cambridge.gov.uk

Licensing of HMOs

Self-contained flats

Section 257 of the Housing Act 2004 applies to a HMO that is a converted block of flats, where the conversion to flats was completed before 1 June 1992, and where less than two thirds of the flats are owner occupied.

HMOs falling within the definition of section 257 are not subject to mandatory licensing, but may be licensed under section 56 of the Housing Act 2004 - additional licensing.

Landlords of this type of HMO must comply with the Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Additional Provisions) (England) Regulations 2007 in addition to the regulations linked to above.

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