If a landlord lets a property to 3 or more people from 2 or more families, the property becomes a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO). There are lots of rules and safety requirements that a landlord must abide by if he is letting a HMO.
Houses in Multiple Occupation in Northern Ireland
You live in a house in multiple occupation (HMO) if you live in a house or flat with at least two people who aren't members of your family. Family members are immediate relations including mother, father or sibling and extended relations including aunt, uncle, niece or nephew. Your home will also be a HMO if it is a flat in a building that was originally one dwelling. Lots of older properties in Northern Ireland have been converted into flats. All of these flats will be HMOs.
Students and groups of adults living together will often end up in HMOs. If you live under the same roof as your immediate or extended family members, you probably don't live in a HMO.
People who live in HMOs are covered by specific laws about safety. A HMO could be:
- a house split into separate bedsits
- a house let as lodgings
- a shared house or flat
- a hostel
- a bed and breakfast hotel which is not just for holidays
- student halls
- a care home.
It can be difficult to work out if you live in a HMO or not. The definition applies to the people living in the property, rather than the property type. The easiest way to find out if you live in a HMO is to contact the Housing Executive and ask them to check the HMO register. Some types of HMO are exempt from registration. This includes properties used as children's homes, boarding schools, residential care homes, Housing Executive properties, religious communities and
- a HMO which is occupied by no more than 2 families
- a HMO which is occupied by no more than two persons in addition to the owner and the owner's family,
All other HMO properties should have been registered by April 2013.
Safety standards in HMOs
If you live in a HMO the property must meet certain standards. There are rules about safety and the facilities your property should contain. There are also rules about how many people can live in the property.
Your landlord must ensure that the building has:
- fire alarms
- fire extinguishers
- fire blankets
- fire doors
- fire escapes and fire escape routes
- smoke or heat alarms.
These must be adequate for the number of people living in the property and the size of the property. The landlord must maintain the fire safety equipment and facilities.
All kitchens, bathrooms and toilets must have adequate lighting. This can either be natural or artificial lighting.
All kitchens bathrooms and toilets must have a window. If it is impossible to provide a window the landlord must provide a fan.
For every 5 people living in a HMO your landlord must provide:
- a bathroom or shower room containing a wash hand basin
- a separate toilet.
If it is impossible to provide a wash hand basion in the bathroom or shower room your landlord must provide a wash hand basin in every bedroom.
The type of cooking facilities your landlord must provide depends on the number of people living in your accommodation.
If fewer than five people live in the accommodation your landlord must provide a cooking appliance with:
- four rings or hotplates
- a grill
- an oven.
If between six and ten people live in your accommodation your landlord must provide two cooking appliances. A shared kitchen should not contain more than two cookers.
Number of residents
There are specific rules that say how many people can live in a HMO. It depends on the relationships between the tenants and how many rooms are in the property. If you are living in an overcrowded HMO, you should contact the Housing Executive.
Number of people
If two people of the opposite sex have to sleep in the same room the accommodation will be overcrowded unless:
- the two people are a married or cohabiting couple
- the two people are under 12 years old.
The number of people of the same sex who can sleep in one room is restricted by the size of the room. The floor area of a room also determines how many people can sleep in it:
- floor area at least 70 sq ft (6.5 sq metres approx) = 1 person
- floor area at least 110 sq feet (11 sq metres approx) = 2 people
- floor area at least 150 sq feet (15 sq metres approx) = 3 people
For the space and floor area calculations:
- children under one year old are ignored
- children under 12 years old count as a half
- rooms under 50 square feet are ignored
Number of rooms
The number of people who should live in a home depends on the number of rooms. Rooms that are counted include living rooms, bedrooms and large kitchens. Generally:
- 1 room = 2 people
- 2 rooms = 3 people
- 3 rooms = 5 people
- 4 rooms = 7.5 people
- 5 or more rooms = 2 people per room
Children under 12 are counted as a half.
Reporting overcrowded HMOs
In some cases, overcrowding may be temporary, because someone has come to visit you for a short period, or due to natural reasons, such as one of your children reaching the age of 12. You can report overcrowding to the Housing Executive if it is causing problems. The Housing Executive can take a private landlord to court for overcrowding a HMO.
Complaints about HMOs
If you live in a HMO that it isn't up to standard you can complain to your local Housing Executive District Office. You can also complain to your local Environmental Health Office if your home is damaging your health or causing a public safety risk.
Complaining to the Housing Executive
The Housing Executive will investigate your property if the house is a HMO. If the Housing Executive decides that your landlord hasn't taken the proper precautions, the Housing Executive can:
- force your landlord to carry out repairs
- carry out the work and fine the landlord later.
Your landlord is forced to carry out repairs
The Housing Executive can tell your landlord to carry out certain repairs. If your landlord doesn't carry out the repairs the Housing Executive can take your landlord to court. The courts can fine your landlord if s/he doesn't carry out the repairs in time.
The Housing Executive carries out the work
As a last resort the Housing Executive may decide to carry out the necessary repairs, and then charge the landlord for the repairs.