HMO Legislation

National HMO Network > HMO Legislation

Houses in Multiple Occupation have long been recognised as presenting greater risks to the health, safety and welfare of their occupants especially in larger, multi-storied properties and properties converted from their original purpose. As a consequence guidance and controls have been enhanced over time, for example bringing in a licensing system for larger HMOs and properties in areas having specific local problems. 

A number of Regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 are also relevant to Housing – more so where an HMO owner/manager employs people.

Whilst not specific just to HMOs, the following safety areas are particularly relevant, some of which require extra controls for HMOs and are subject to much additional guidance and detailed legislation (N.B. this list is not exhaustive):-

Housing Act Safety Rating Scheme

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) produced under the Housing Act 2004 and used by housing enforcement officers and consultants to “quantify” the level of risk posed by 29 defined hazards that may be present in any home (some more commonly than others).

HHSRS assessments produce a score which places each hazard into a band falling into one of two categories (1 or 2). This category then dictates the level of action that maybe required.  Local authorities must take some form of action to deal with category 1 hazards and may take action over category 2 hazards dependent on their severity, number and on other circumstances. 

In addition to the HHSRS system of assessing a dwelling there are other specific risk areas that are covered by separate legislation:-


Both Housing and Health and Safety Legislation cover the safety of Asbestos that maybe present in old buildings.

For the common parts of HMOs, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 apply, however for all dwellings the HHSRS system under Housing Act 2004 covers asbestos as hazard profile 4 (HHSRS Guidance)

Soft Furnishings

The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 required soft furnishings to be flame retardant and prevented sale of furnishings without confirmatory labels.

Planning Controls and  Building Regulation legislation control development of buildings and alterations,  set standards and regulate the use of buildings for certain purposes.  There are also HMO-specific planning controls.

Some works carried out to HMOs will require planning permission and or building regulation approval including for:

  • change of use for houses with more than 6 occupants
  • installation of plumbing and electrical works
  • thermal insulation
  • structural alterations

Meeting building regulation standards does not imply that the house meets HMO standards and will be free from Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) hazards.

In addition, many Councils have controls in parts of their areas removing permitted development rights to create an HMO without permission – Known as Article 4 Directions.

Energy Performance

Energy performance certificates (EPCs) have been a requirement for landlords since 2008 (although not for all HMOs) with numerous amendments  culminating to date with the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015  (as Amended). These Regulations (which must be reviewed every 5 years and are currently (Dec. 2020 under consultation) require all domestic properties that have an EPC to be a minimum efficiency level of Band E.

See our section on Energy Performance

Electrical Installation and Portable Appliance Testing

New for 2020 Regulations requires every electrical installation in a residential premises to be inspected and tested at 5 yearly (or less) intervals by a qualified person by 1st April 2021 or before a new tenancy commences prior to that date. The installation must comply with the 2018 edition of the New Wiring Regulations, also known as BS 7671. The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020

Landlords in Wales are subject to different regulations under the Building Regulations 2010, the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 and the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016.

Gas Safety

All gas fired appliances must be installed safely by an authorised gas engineer and inspected annually with a landlords certificate issued. 

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 were amended in April 2018, removing previous difficulties presented by a strict 12 month re-inspection requirement that in practice required far shorter than annual checks to be carried out to avoid committing a criminal offence the day the 12 month period expired.

The HSE have published guidance for landlords 

Carbon Monoxide Detection

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 came into force in October 2015 and required alarms in premises with solid fuel burning appliances. Government guidance encourages the provision of CO alarms where there are gas fired appliances although this is not as yet a specific legal requirement.

Water  Supply safety – Legionella 

All landlords are required to ensure that the risk from legionella in water supply systems is properly controlled.  Risk assessment is the key to this control, advice for which can be found at the Health and Safety Executive’s website.  HSE Technical Guidance HSG274 Part 2 explains the specific and simple control measures require for residential landlords (see page 45) in relation to hot and cold water systems.  

Fire Safety

Fire safety in HMO’s can be complex, and should be based on a risk assessment approach. Whilst fire safety is a requirement for all workplaces, additional guidance and legislation safeguards HMOs in detail:- 

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005  gives the duty to take general fire precautions and carry out risk assessment, and although this requirement only applies to the common parts of HMOs, in practice it MUST take into account the entire premises. 

In 2008 the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) produced a guide to Housing-Fire Safety to manage the relationship between the Housing Act 2004 and Fire Safety Order. This Guidance became something of a  ‘bible’ for HMO landlords and enforcement and licensing officers alike. It is currently (Dec 2020) under review.

Much other guidance maybe found on the Government’s website – Fire Safety Law and Guidance Documents for Business.  Including further detail on risk assessments for various types of HMO –Fire Safety Risk Assessment for sleeping accommodation.

Waste Disposal 

The two sets of Management Regulations for England (not Wales) require an HMO manager to provide sufficient bins for each household to store refuse having regard to the local authority’s collection service.

In relation to Licensed HMOs,  The Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Mandatory Conditions of Licences)(England) Regulations 2018 additionally require the issuing local authority to include a licensing condition regarding compliance with their local waste collection and disposal arrangements.