Legally every landlord has to meet fire safety obligations but those requirements vary depending on the type of property being rented out and the nature of the tenants. For landlords with a house, or houses, in multiple occupation (HMOs), the fire safety requirements become more complex especially if the HMO requires a licence. And changes set to take place in England this autumn mean that an estimated 177,000 more HMOs are about to become subject to mandatory licensing - with their fire safety obligations increasing as a result. What is an HMO? The Housing Act 2004 introduced a detailed definition of what an HMO is. In essence, for a building or part of a building (like a flat) to be classified as an HMO it must meet the following criteria. It’s a building:
  • in which more than one household shares an essential amenity such as a bathroom, toilet or cooking facilities, or;
  • it’s a converted building that isn’t entirely comprised of self-contained flats (whether or not there is also sharing, or lack, of amenities), or;
  • it’s comprised entirely of converted self-contained flats where the standard of conversion doesn’t meet the minimum required by the 1991 Building Regulations, and more than one third of the flats are occupied under short tenancies.
The building must also be occupied by two or more households as their only or main residence. A household may just be a single person or several members of the same family living together (although the HMO definition is usually applied where there are 3 or more tenants). Which HMOs must be licensed at the moment? Under the Act, there are two types of HMO licensing: mandatory and additional. Mandatory HMO licensing applies to HMOs of three or more storeys that are occupied by five or more people forming more than one household. Even if an HMO doesn’t meet these criteria, councils have discretionary powers to extend licensing (known as additional HMO licensing) to other categories of HMOs if deemed necessary - for instance, if they consider an HMO is being managed ineffectively and problems might arise as a result. So what’s changing? The Government recently confirmed it’s extending the definition for the kinds of HMOs that must obtain mandatory licences. This means many more HMOs will be required to obtain a mandatory licence – it’s estimated it will affect around an extra 177,000 HMOs. The new order is due to come into force from the 1st October 2018. Essentially, the regulations remove the three storey rule and bring purpose-built flats where there are up to two flats in the block into the scope of mandatory licensing. HMOs currently licensed under the additional licensing scheme will be moved into the mandatory scheme. And there’s no grace period – landlords need to be complying with this by the 1st October. Of course, whether you are the landlord of an HMO or not, fire safety is always a key responsibility. But if you are the landlord of an HMO, you have extra legal responsibilities. If you are the landlord of an HMO that falls under a mandatory licence, those fire safety responsibilities are even more stringent. If you currently rent out an HMO that doesn’t require licensing but that will do from the 1st October, you need to apply for a licence through your local council. In order to issue the licence, authorities will be assessing whether a range of requirements has been met – including those connected with fire safety. Our advice would be to start checking what’s required as soon as you can to make sure you’re ready for the October deadline, and to get in touch with us if you need any help risk assessing your property or completing your fire safety actions.