HMO Advice

We guide property owners and landlords on certification, planning permission, licensing and management, helping you to optimise your investments in multiple occupancy properties.

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Houses in
Multiple Occupation

Are you planning to rent your property to tenants who will be sharing the same kitchen and bathroom? Or have you already begun to do so? Then you will need to know the essentials of applying for planning permission (or a Lawful Development Certificate) for ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation’ (HMOs, for short).

Do HMOs require planning permission?

The good news is that you generally don’t need planning permission when converting from a dwelling house to a small HMO, which is a small shared house of up to six unrelated individuals. This is because in England, the General Permitted Development Order (GDPO) makes it possible for you to change the use of a dwelling house (use class C3) to a small house in multiple occupation (HMO; use class C4), subject to certain limits and conditions.

However, that change of use from a C3 dwelling house to a C4 HMO will require planning permission if your local council decides to remove permitted development rights by implementing what’s known as an ‘Article 4 direction’; this is happening more and more and so it is important to avoid making assumptions, and do read on…

So, what exactly is an HMO?

Essentially, an HMO is a property in which 3 or more tenants from more than one family live, sharing one or more facilities (for example a kitchen, toilet or bathroom). Deciding whether your property meets the criteria for an HMO can be difficult, because as with many things in the world of the town planning, there are a few grey areas. If you’re unsure as to where your property stands, the Barnes v Sheffield City Council (1995) 27 HLR 719 court case drew up a list of nine helpful criteria that may be able to help you decide:
  • the origin of the tenancy – whether the residents arrived as a single group or were independently recruited by the landlord;
  • the extent to which the facilities were shared;
  • whether the occupants were responsible for the whole house or just their particular rooms;
  • the extent to which residents can and do lock their doors;
  • the responsibility for filling vacancies – whether that of the existing occupants;
  • the allocation of rooms – whether by the occupants or the landlord;
  • the size of the establishment;
  • the stability of the group;
  • the mode of living – to what extent communal and to what extent independent.

Class C3: Dwelling House

Class C4: Small HMO – between 3 and 6 residents

Large HMOs (Sui-Generis) – more than 6 residents

Sometimes applications to change the use of a property to an HMO are not straightforward, with the following being raised as potential issues:

  • loss of local character
  • loss of single family dwelling houses
  • reduction in environmental quality
  • increased noise complaints
  • increased anti-social behaviour
  • increased levels of crime
  • increased pressures on car parking
  • dominance of private renting
  • increased pressure upon local services
  • poor standards of accommodation


You may also need to apply for Building Regulations Approval, which will involve your property being assessed to ensure it meets the correct fire safety standards.

If you plan to change your property from Class C3 (single family dwellinghouse) to a Large HMO (sui generis) with more than 6 residents, you will need to seek planning permission as there are no permitted development rights for this change.

You may also require planning permission to change from a small scale to a large scale HMO – depending on if a material change of use has occurred, this is a very grey area of planning – so do check before you make any changes.

This is very separate to the planning process, but not always.  HMO licensing is mandatory in properties which are occupied by 5 or more people. The Government has produced a Guide for HMO Licensing. In these cases, licencing is mandatory to help protect vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals by ensuring adequate health and safety standards are upheld.

However, a Council can choose to license all privately rented properties (this is called ‘Selective Licensing’) or they may license HMOs in all or specific areas (called ‘Additional Licensing’). It is always advisable to check with your local Council, because if you rent your property without the necessary licence, you could be fined up to £20,000.

If you have a property that is being used as a HMO, but doesn’t have planning approval or is now located within an Article 4 Direction area, it may be possible to obtain a Lawful Development Certificate to establish the HMO use as the lawful use of the property. These certificates require evidence to be submitted for assessment by planning officers. If a certificate is issued, this can be useful should you wish to ever sell the property.

If you are in need of further assistance with anything related to HMO planning, a town planner can provide you with the guidance you need for a smooth transition. Please feel free to contact us to discuss your situation.

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