House in multiple occupation (HMO) definition
The standard test for a house in multiple occupation (HMO) is whether two or more households share a basic amenity, such as bathroom.
- Definition of a house in multiple occupation
- Standard test for HMOs
- Self-contained flat test
- Converted building test
- HMO declarations
- Converted houses – section 257 HMOs
- Definition of a single household
- Only or main residence
- Exemption from HMO regulations
- HMO definition for purposes of council tax liability
- Landlord's liability for council tax on a HMO
Definition of a house in multiple occupation
The Housing Act 2004 clarifies the definition of a house in multiple occupation (HMO), replacing the definition under the Housing Act 1985. The definition of an HMO is found in Part 7 of the 2004 Act.
To be defined as an HMO, a building, or part thereof, must fall within one of the following categories:
a building or flat in which two or more households share a basic amenity, such as bathroom, toilet or cooking facilities: this is known as the 'standard test' or the 'self-contained flat test'
a building that has been converted and does not entirely comprise of self-contained flats: this is known as the 'converted building test'
a building that is declared an HMO by the local authority
a converted block of flats where the standard of the conversion does not meet the relevant building standards and fewer than two-thirds of the flats are owner-occupied: this is known as a section 257 HMO
These tests are explained in detail below.
Standard test for HMOs
A building is an HMO under the standard test if the:
occupants share one or more of the basic amenities (defined as a toilet, personal washing facilities and cooking facilities) or the accommodation lacks one or more of these amenities
building does not entirely consist of self-contained flats (it may, however, comprise some self-contained units)
building is occupied by at least three people who constitute more than one household
building is the occupants' main residence (or should be treated as such)
occupation constitutes the only use of the accommodation, and
rents are payable, or some other form of consideration, for at least one person's occupation
This test applies to the most common type of HMO. It applies to shared houses (shared by more than one household such as students) and purpose-built bedsit accommodation. It may also apply to a hostel if the accommodation does not entirely comprise of self-contained units.
Self-contained flat test
The criteria to meet the self-contained flat test are the same as the standard test, except that they apply to an individual flat that is in multiple occupation.
A unit of accommodation is self contained if it is a separate set of premises, and all three basic amenities are available for the exclusive use of its occupants.
If a building comprises both self-contained and non-self-contained accommodation and there is some sharing of facilities, then the standard test applies.
Converted building test
The converted building test is met where:
a building or part of a building consists of living accommodation and has been converted, where one or more of the units of accommodation have been created since the building was originally constructed
it contains at least one unit of accommodation that is not a self-contained flat (there may be some self-contained flats)
the accommodation is occupied by three or more persons who do not form a single household
the accommodation is the occupants' main or only residence (or should be treated as such)
occupation as living accommodation constitutes the only use of that accommodation
rents are payable
This test would apply, for example, in the case of a house converted to bedsits, where bathrooms and/or toilets are shared.
The local authority can make a declaration that a house is in multiple occupation where it is satisfied that the premises meets one of the three tests above and the occupation of the living accommodation (by more than one household) constitutes a 'significant use', rather than 'sole use', of the property.
An HMO declaration makes it clear that the building shall be regarded as an HMO for the purposes of the Act. The declaration could be used where a hotel taking short-term guests is also providing accommodation for homeless people.
The local authority must serve a notice that the building has been declared an HMO on each relevant person (any person with an interest in the building, or who manages or has control of the building, but not a tenant) within seven days of making the decision.
The notice comes into force after 28 days, which is the period for appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). If there is an appeal, the notice only comes into effect once it has been confirmed by the Tribunal and the time for appeal against that decision has elapsed (normally 28 days) or the Upper Tribunal confirms the notice.
The local authority may revoke the declaration at any time on its own initiative or on application by a relevant person, where the building no longer meets any of the HMO tests. If the local authority refuses an application to revoke an HMO declaration, this decision can be appealed to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) within 28 days.
Converted houses – section 257 HMOs
Section 257 of the Housing Act 2004 applies to whole converted properties rather than individual dwellings and describes a HMO as a building:
which has been converted into and consists of self-contained flats
where the conversion work did not comply with the appropriate building standards and still does not
where less than two-thirds of the flats are owner-occupied
The appropriate building standards are those required by the Building Regulations 1991 or 2000 (whichever were in force at the time of the conversion).
Owner-occupiers are those with a lease of more than 21 years or who own the freehold in the converted block of flats, or a member of the household of the person who is the owner.
Definition of a single household
A building is considered an HMO if it is occupied by more than one household.
The Housing Act 2004 defines a single household as:
a family, for example a couple (whether married or not and including same-sex couples) or persons related to one another
an employer and certain specified domestic employees
a carer and the person receiving care
a foster parent and foster child
Only or main residence
To be an HMO the accommodation has to be used by persons as their only or main residence.
It is usually apparent if this is the case, but secondary legislation specifies certain situations where the nature of occupation is less clear cut. These include:
a residence for the purpose of undertaking full-time further or higher education
a refuge, that is a building or part of a building used by a voluntary organisation for temporary accommodation for people who have left their home as the result of domestic violence
occupation by migrant or seasonal workers where the employer or agent provides the accommodation
occupation by asylum seekers and their dependents, where the accommodation has been provided under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and the accommodation is provided by a private landlord under contract to or on behalf of UKVI
A hostel or night shelter providing accommodation to homeless people may be an HMO because, even if the accommodation is overnight, it is the occupants' only residence. Rent (or consideration) must be paid for the HMO definition to apply.
Exemption from HMO regulations
Certain buildings that meet the criteria to be defined as an HMO under the Housing Act 2004 are exempt from the licensing provisions and the management regulations.
This comprises buildings that are:
managed or controlled by private registered providers of social housing, a co-operative society, local authorities and other specified public sector bodies
buildings regulated under other legislation, for example boarding schools, prisons, accommodation centres for asylum seekers and care homes
occupied by religious communities, unless they are section 257 HMOs
halls of residence (or other accommodation occupied by students) that are managed or controlled by one of the educational establishments listed in the regulations
only occupied by an owner/occupier, members of their household and no more than two tenants or licensees. This exemption does not apply to section 257 HMOs
only occupied by two people who form two households
HMO definition for purposes of council tax liability
The Council Tax (Liability for Owners) Regulations 1992, which provide that the owner of an HMO is liable to pay council tax rather than the occupiers, contain a different definition of a HMO.
Under the regulations, an HMO is a dwelling which:
was originally constructed or converted for occupation by people constituting more than one household
is occupied by two or more people each of whom is a tenant or has a licence to occupy, whether or not they are liable to pay rent
On the basis of this definition, it has been held that joint tenants who were not related but had exclusive possession of the whole dwelling under a single tenancy agreement, providing for a single rent payment per period, for which all of them were jointly and severally liable, were not living in a HMO and were therefore liable to pay council tax on that property. Similarly, where two tenants who were not joint tenants each had a tenancy agreement for the whole property, the landlord was not liable for the council tax.
More information about council tax payable on HMOs is available from local councils.
Landlord's liability for council tax on a HMO
Where an assured or assured shorthold tenant lives in an HMO, the landlord is liable to pay the council tax on the property. The definition of the HMO in the Council Tax (Liability for Owners) Regulations 1992 applies.
The landlord may recover the money if there is a clause in the agreement allowing for this or they may seek to increase the rent to cover the amount.
If the agreement does not allow for this, the landlord would not be able to increase the rent except in certain circumstances.
Where there is a fixed-term tenancy with no rent review clause the landlord is unable to pass on the cost.
Last updated: 23 March 2021
s.254 Housing Act 2004.
s.254(2) and para 7, Sch. 14 Housing Act 2004.
s.254(2) and (3) Housing Act 2004.
s.254(8) Housing Act 2004.
s.254(4) Housing Act 2004.
s.260 Housing Act 2004.
s.255 Housing Act 2004; Herefordshire Council v Rohde  UKUT 39 (LC).
s.255(4) Housing Act 2004.
Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Property Chamber) Rules 2013 SI 2013/1169; the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Chambers) (Amendment) Order 2013 SI 2013/1187.
s.257 Housing Act 2004; Hastings BC v Turner  UKUT 184 (LC).
s.258 Housing Act 2004.
s.259 Housing Act 2004; reg 5 Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation and other Houses (Miscellaneous Provisions) (England) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/373.
Sch. 14 Housing Act 2004, as amended.
R (on the application of Goremsandu) v Harrow LBC  EWHC 1873 (Admin).
Shah v Croydon LBC  EWHC 3657 (Admin).
Council Tax (Liability for Owners) Regulations 1992 SI 1992/551, as amended.