Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) can offer good quality affordable accommodation to people who cannot afford to buy their own homes and are not eligible for council housing.

Sections in this guide (click title to view)

1. What is an HMO?

A house in multiple occupation (HMO) is a house or flat where both of the following apply:

  • at least three tenants live there, forming more than 1 household
  • you share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities with other tenants.

A household is either a single person or members of the same family who live together.

An HMO could be a:

  • house split into separate bedsits
  • shared house or flat, where the sharers are not members of the same family
  • hostel
  • bed-and-breakfast hotel that is not just for holidays
  • shared accommodation for students – although many halls of residence and other types of student accommodation owned by educational establishments are not classed as HMOs

For a legal definition of an HMO, visit the National HMO Network website.

2. Standards in an HMO

Although HMOs provide a good source of housing, it is possible to find the very worst housing standards in HMOs and these tenants are most at risk from poor management.

Because of this, 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:

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.

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

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

Changes to inspections as a result of coronavirus

During the current Coronavirus pandemic we are operating a reduced service and will only be visiting properties where there is an imminent risk to health or safety, i.e. where the risk posed by the issues is greater than the potential for spreading coronavirus.

Examples include:

  • Sewage in someone’s home
  • Structural collapse
  • Falling building elements, e.g. glass, failing walls, etc.
  • Pests that can spread disease
  • Imminent risk of fire
  • Electrocution
  • Carbon Monoxide leaks

In all other cases officers will try and assist you using phone and email. Officers may also need to be redeployed to help deal with the response to Covid-19. This means it will take longer to deal with your request than usual. Thank you for your patience.

If you live in an HMO and are concerned that it doesn't meet these standards you can call us on 020 7926 4444 or 020 7926 4018 or email

3. Licensing and planning permission for HMOs

Some HMOs will require planning permission and, or, a property licence depending on their size and the number of people that live there.

HMOs are defined differently between housing and planning regulations, so you need to make sure you understand these differences.

HMO licensing

Some HMOs in Lambeth are required to have a property license to operate and be rented out as private accommodation.

Currently, we only license HMOs that meet the conditions of the mandatory licensing scheme.

An HMO in Lambeth will need a mandatory licence if:

  • it’s rented to 5 or more people who form more than 1 household
  • tenants share some facilities such as the toilet, bathroom or kitchen.

Find out more about HMO property licensing.

If you live in an HMO and are concerned that it isn't licensed you can report this to us.

Planning permission for HMOs

Planning regulations classify HMOs as either being small or large depending on the number of occupants:

  • small HMOs (Class C4) - properties housing between 3 and 6 unrelated people reside and share amenities
  • large HMOs (Class sui generis) - 7 or more people sharing

If you are going to rent your HMO to seven or more people, you will need to get planning permission for change of use.

Find out more about Use classes and change of use on the Planning Portal website.

4. Report an unlicensed HMO

Are you concerned that an HMO you know about or live in isn’t licensed?

Report an unlicensed HMO

5. Article 4 - HMOs

The Council do not currently operate an Article 4 in the borough that removes permitted development rights in relation to conversions to houses in multiple occupation.

Check our planning and building control area for updates

6. Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about an HMO, contact the Property Standards and Enforcement Services: