From 1 April 2019 all HMOs in Northern Ireland must be licenced. Any HMO that is currently registered will have this registration automatically converted to a licence. You should take note of when your existing registration is due for renewal so you can apply for a licence in advance of this date.
Will all HMOs be granted a licence?
The council has to decide whether to grant a licence or not. The council can only grant a licence if it is satisfied that
- granting the licence is not a breach of planning control;
- the owner and HMO manager are “fit and proper” persons;
- there are satisfactory management arrangements in place;
- the property is suitable for occupation as a HMO and can accommodate the number of occupants the landlord has proposed; and
- granting the licence will not result in an overprovision of HMOs in the area.
Normally, a licence is valid for 5 years, but the council can decide to approve a licence for a shorter period of time if it believes this is appropriate.
How to apply for a HMO licence
The best way to apply for a licence is to do so online via a dedicated portal on Belfast City Council’s website. You will also be able to apply by post or in person at your local council office.
If your property has not been classed as a HMO before, you will need to get planning permission before you apply for your HMO licence. Speak to Landlord Advice if you aren't sure whether your property will be classed as a HMO or not.
Your application will only be processed after the council has received all the information required and the application fee. The council could take up to three months to decide on your application, so don’t leave it until the last minute.
You must publish details of your application in at least one local newspaper circulated in the area that the proposed HMO is located in. This is to give people an opportunity to object to the application.
The fee for a HMO application depends on the maximum occupancy level of the HMO. The overcrowding rules for HMOs will help you work out the maximum number of people who will be allowed to live in your property. If you exceed this number on your application, your licence will be refused.
The fee is £37 per occupant per year of the licence. Since most applications are for 5 years, you'll be asked to pay a fee of £185 for each person you intend to rent to. If you intend to have a maximum of 10 people in your property the application fee will be £1850.
Additional fees can be charged if you want to make certain changes to the licence, including:
- adding a new owner or managing agent;
- increasing the occupancy limit;
Appearing in front of the council
Each council has a committee that deals with HMO licensing decisions. This committee may decide to hold a hearing about your license application. If so, you will be invited to attend this hearing. This committee can also invite anyone who has raised an objection to the application to appear in person.
The decision to grant or reject a licence will be made by the council in which the proposed HMO is located. Belfast City Council’s HMO team will provide specialist legal advice on the legislation in order to support other councils through this process. If your application for a licence is refused, you can appeal this decision at the county court, as long as you have planning permission for the property to be a HMO.
The council may attach conditions to your licence. If you breach these conditions, your licence may be revoked.
There are standard conditions, which will apply to all licences. These include commitments to
- respond proactively to any complaints about anti-social behaviour
- refrain from charging tenants fees for letting a property and observe the provisions of the Commission on Disposals of Land Order 1986
- ensure the security of the property and occupants, e.g. changing locks if any previous occupants still hold keys
- adopt a repairs categorisation system and timeframes for completion
- adhere to the code of practice and ensure the property meets the standards for HMOs
- ensure that the HMO does not exceed its maximum permitted occupancy.
The council can issue a licence where the property or the property management falls slightly short of what is expected by including conditions requiring that the landlord and agent address these failings.
Your own licence can include conditions that are specific to you or your property. These could include requirements to carry out certain work or to attend training.
Breach of licence conditions
It is an offence to breach the conditions of your HMO licence. If you do this, the council can
- issue you with a Fixed Penalty Notice of £2,500
- revoke your HMO licence
- take you to court, where a maximum fine of £10,00 is possible for this offence.
A landlord who breaches licence conditions without reasonable justification may have difficulties with future HMO licence applications, as the council will take this into consideration when determining if this person is “fit and proper”.