When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

HMO licensing in Northern Ireland

Advice for landlords in Northern Ireland

This page is for landlords operating in Northern Ireland.  You can find advice for tenants elsewhere on our website. Private landlords in Northern Ireland can call Landlord Advice on 028 9024 5640 and choose option 1. 

You must have a HMO licence if you rent out property shared by 3 or more people who are not related to each other.

Local councils are responsible for the HMO licensing scheme. Belfast City Council manages most of the work for other councils.

What happens to HMOs registered under the old scheme?

The council gave automatic licences to any property on the Housing Executive's HMO register on 31 March 2021.

The council wrote to landlords to tell them when these converted licences expire. You will have to apply for a new licence before then to continue renting the property as a HMO.

Who decides if a property can have a HMO 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;
  • the property 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.

A typical licence is for 5 years. 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

Apply online on Belfast City Council’s website. You will also be able to apply by post or in person at your local council office.

It can take a long time to get the paperwork you need for your application. The council then has 3 months to make a decision.

You must publish details of your application in a newspaper local to the property. People can object to your application.

Do you need planning permission for a HMO?

You will need to have proof of planning permission if the property is not currently licensed as a HMO.

You may be able to get a Certificate of Lawful Use or Development (CLUD) instead of full planning permission if

  • the property is currently operating as a HMO, and
  • the property has been continually operating as a HMO for at least the last 5 years. 

You will not need planning permission if you are renewing your licence.

What are the fees for a HMO licence in Northern Ireland?

The fee depends on how many people can live in the property.

The size and shape of a property determine how many people can live in it. See Sections 41-43 of the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (NI) 2016 to find out more.

The typical fee is £185 per occupant. This fee is for a five year licence.

The council can charge extra fees if you want to

  • add a new owner or managing agent;
  • increase the occupancy limit;

How does the council decide on a HMO application?

Each council has a committee that deals with HMO licensing decisions. Belfast City Council's HMO department gives advice about each application to this committee.

The committee will decide some cases based on the application form.

The committee can hold a hearing about a licence, and may do so if there are lots of objections. The council will invite you to any hearing.

What happens if the council refuses a HMO application?

You can appeal the council's decision if they reject your application. The appeal happens at county court. You will need a solicitor.

You can only appeal the decision if you have planning permission to use the property as a HMO.

Attaching conditions to your HMO licence

The council may attach conditions to your licence.

All HMO licences have these standard conditions. The standard conditions are on Belfast City Council's website.

Your 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 the maximum fine for this offence is £10,00.

Breaches can also hurt your ability to pass the “fit and proper” person test. You must pass this test to have a HMO licence.