A house in multiple occupation or HMO is a type of shared housing, which is subject to additional standards and requirements.
From 1 April 2019 all HMOs in Northern Ireland must be licenced. Local councils are responsible for the HMO licensing scheme. Councils have agreed a delegation scheme; which will see three lead councils take responsibility for much of the work, with Belfast City Council designated as the lead council for the scheme.
Before renting out a HMO, you must apply for a licence. The council will only grant a licence if it is satisfied that:
- The property is suitable for use as a HMO;
- There is sufficient space and room in the property for the number of people you propose to let to;
- The property meets the additional standards for HMOs;
- The property will be managed by a fit and proper person;
- Granting a licence to this property won’t result in there being too many HMOs in the area.
What are the main changes?
The new HMO regime introduces a number of changes. The biggest ones are:
- the definition of what a HMO is has changed, removing some properties from the regime;
- councils have taken over the responsibility for looking after HMOs;
- HMO properties must be free from specified hazards, which pose a risk to the safety of the occupants;
- a new licensing scheme has replaced the old registration scheme;
- a new “fit and proper” person test applies to HMO owners and managers;
- HMO managers will have to adhere to a Code of Practice that includes a requirement to proactively manage complaints about anti-social behaviour;
- fixed penalty notices have been introduced for certain offences.
Responsibility for HMOs transferred to councils
For many years, the Housing Executive has been the body responsible for HMO properties. But, the Houses in Multiple Occupation (NI) Act 2016 transferred that responsibility to councils.
In order to ensure a consistent service, the councils have agreed that three councils will act as cluster leads.
- Belfast City Council assumes overall responsibility for the new regime;
- Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council will assume responsibility for: Mid and East Antrim Borough Council; Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council; Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council; and Ards and North Down Borough Council;
- Derry City and Strabane District Council will assume responsibility for: Fermanagh and Omagh District Council; Mid Ulster District Council; Newry Mourne and Down District Council; and Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.
Individual councils will still be responsible for making decisions on applications for a HMO licence, but will have been fully supported in this decision making process by their cluster lead.
What happens if a HMO is already registered?
If your HMO property is already registered, you do not have to apply for a new licence until that registration lapses. Your HMO will automatically convert to a licenced HMO.
Smaller homes and properties, which are only HMOs because they are flats in a subdivided house may no longer be classed as HMOs.
Check the new definition to see if you will have to apply for a licence when your existing registration expires.
Before applying for a licence, make sure that you know what standards your property must meet and that your management procedures meet the new Code of Practice.