A House in multiple occupation (HMO) is a house or flat which is occupied by three or more people who do not live as a single household (such as people in a family relationship) and where they share one or more basic amenities, such as a bathroom, toilet, or cooking facilities.

Bed sitting accommodation and houses or flats occupied by sharers are examples of HMOs.

For a legal definition of an HMO, go to:

HMO license fees will be updated from 1 April 2017.

Sections in this guide (click title to view)

1. Potential issues with an HMO

HMOs can provide affordable housing for people who perhaps can’t afford to rent a flat or house by themselves and are not eligible for council housing. However, it is possible to find the very worst housing standards in HMOs and these tenants are most at risk from poor management.

The most common problems associated with multiple occupancy relate to:

  • poor fire safety standards
  • overcrowding
  • inadequate facilities
  • poor management.

2. Standards in an HMO

Most of the standards for HMOs are set by the government and are minimum requirements. Other standards are given as a guide to what we believe is reasonable for the health and safety of the people living there.

The standards include:

  • fire precautions and means of escape in case of fire
  • adequate amenities (kitchen and bathrooms) are provided
  • adequate space is available to tenants and there is no overcrowding
  • proper management is in place.

The Housing Health and Safety Hazard Rating System (HHSRS) is also used to measure other risks in HMOs, in particular repair and fire safety risks.

Download the summary guides for:

3. Checking HMO standards

We carry out routine inspections of all known HMOs in Lambeth. If conditions are not up to the required standards the landlord is required to improve them.

In addition, if a landlord wants to set up a new HMO, one of our officers will visit and give advice on the requirements for the property.

We also respond to complaints received from occupying tenants or other persons or services.

4. HMO Licensing

The Housing Act 2004 introduced the licensing of HMOs. It is mandatory to licence certain larger and higher risk HMOs, and we can licence other HMOs at our discretion. You need to apply for an HMO licence if you own or manage an HMO with:

  • properties of three or more storeys
  • let to five or more people
  • who form two or more households.

Storeys include occupied basements and attics, including those occupied by a resident landlord. Commercial premises on the ground or any upper floors are also included. Children are also counted the same way as adults.

We ensure all HMOs are fit and safe to live in with regard to the health, safety and welfare of the tenants. We encourage good practice and ensure the provision of quality, well-managed accommodation.

In some cases a maisonette in a house or above commercial premises may need a licence if similarly occupied.

If you are unsure whether your HMO needs a licence please contact us.

Once we receive a completed HMO licence application and the fee, we will issue a licence within six to eight weeks if we are satisfied that the:

  • proposed licence holder is a fit and proper person. A fit and proper person is a person who has complied with housing and related legislation, is competent to manage the property and has no criminal convictions
  • property is reasonably suitable for occupation by the number of households or persons applied for
  • arrangements for managing the house are satisfactory.

The licence will be valid for a maximum of five years from the date of issue, although it can be issued for a shorter period, after which time it must be renewed.

Licensing conditions

If a licence is issued, it will specify the maximum number of people who may live in the HMO. It will also require the landlord to:

  • have a valid current gas safety certificate, which is renewed annually (in accordance with the Gas Safety Regulations 1998)
  • ensure that all electrical appliances and furniture are kept in a safe condition
  • install and properly maintain a fire detection system, doors and sited alarms throughout the property
  • provide each occupant with a written statement about terms and conditions (a tenancy agreement)
  • we will also impose a range of other conditions, if deemed warranted.

Failing to comply with licence conditions is subject to a fine of up to £5,000 per offence.

Cost of HMO licensing

You can work out how much your fees will be by using the fee calculator:

HMOs operating without a licence

It is your responsibility as landlord to apply to us for an HMO licence.

It is an offence to operate a licensable HMO without having obtained a licence. HMOs operating without a licence are now subject to an unlimited fine.

In addition, any Housing Benefit paid to you for an unlicensed HMO, can be repayable to Lambeth Council (subject to a Residential Property Tribunal order).

Also, in some circumstances, tenants can apply to the First- Tier Tribunal for a rent repayment order if they have paid rent to you (up to a limit of 12 months) if you have failed to obtain an HMO licence.

We will encourage landlords to apply for licensing through advice and persuasion, but where they fail to apply as a result of such informal action we will take legal proceedings with a view to prosecution in the courts.

Similarly any breach of conditions will initially be dealt with informally, but if the breach continues legal proceedings will be started.

Temporary Exemption Notice (TEN)

A TEN suspends the requirement for a licence because the owner has notified us that she or he is currently taking steps to change the way the HMO is occupied. For example, seeking planning permission to convert the HMO into a single family dwelling or the property has been put up for sale.

Temporary exemption is what it says: temporary. We can serve a temporary exemption notice (TEN) which will exempt the premises from licensing for three months.

In certain unusual circumstances it can extend this for a further three months. After that, there is no power to exempt the premises and the property must be licensed.

HMO Licensing register

The Housing Act 2004 requires us to maintain a public register of all premises in the borough licensed as a HMO.

If you have any enquiries about a property which has been licensed or which you feel should be licensed and isn't, email us at pse@lambeth.gov.uk.

Properties exempt from HMO licensing

Certain types of properties are not classed as HMOs for the purposes of the Housing Act 2004 and as a result are exempt from licensing:

  • a property occupied by two persons living as two households (two person flat shares)
  • buildings managed or controlled by public sector bodies (such as the police or the NHS) or an LHA (London Hostels Association) or a Registered Social Landlord
  • buildings occupied by students and the person in control is the educational body
  • buildings converted entirely into self-contained flats
  • buildings occupied by a resident landlord and his family with no more than two lodgers
  • buildings regulated under another Act, such as care homes, bail hostels
  • buildings entirely occupied by freeholders or long leaseholders.

HMOs not requiring a licence

If an HMO does not require a property licence, fire precaution works and the provision of extra amenities may still be required.

A landlord is responsible to ensure his or her property is safe for the occupants and must carry out a risk assessment. We will need to inspect the property to carry out a HHSRS risk assessment to determine if any works are necessary.

5. Contact us

If you have any questions about HMOs contact Property Standards and Enforcement Services on 020 7926 4444 or 020 7926 4018 or email pse@lambeth.gov.uk.