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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Overcrowding in HMOs

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 choosing option 5. Lines open Monday to Friday, from 9.30am to 2.30pm.

You should make sure that your HMO does not become overcrowded. Overcrowding is a serious offence, and you can be issued with an overcrowding notice if the council believes your HMO is or is likely to become overcrowded.

There are two different standards used to work out how many people can live in a HMO property.

The room standard for HMOs

A HMO will be overcrowded if a person who is 13 or older must sleep in the same room as

  • Any person of the opposite sex who is also 13 or older or
  • A couple.

The space standard for HMOs

A HMO will also be overcrowded if there are more people sleeping in a bedroom or living room than are allowed by the space standard.

This is a set of measurements setting out exactly how many people can safely sleep in a room.

When counting people for the space standard, a child under the age of 12 is counted as half a person. You do not count babies under the age of one.

If a room is used only as a bedroom, the space standard allows

  • A maximum of one person to sleep in a room measuring between 6.5m2 and 11m2
  • A maximum of two people to sleep in a room measuring between 11m2 and 15m2
  • A maximum of three people to sleep in a room measuring between 15m2 and 19.5 m2

Four people can sleep in a room measuring 19.5m2, and one additional person can sleep in that room for every 4.5 m2 above 19.5 m2.

A room measuring less than 6.5m2 is not suitable for use as sleeping accommodation.  

Different measurements are used for rooms that are used as a bedroom and living room, and for rooms used as bedroom, living room and kitchen. These measurements can be found in Part 4 of The Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (NI) 2016.

The council uses a particular method to measure room, which accounts for things like sloping ceilings, hot presses and projecting chimney-breasts.

What happens if a HMO is overcrowded?

Allowing a HMO to become overcrowded is an offence. The council can serve an overcrowding notice you if council officers believe that

  • A HMO is overcrowded or
  • A HMO is likely to become overcrowded.

For example, if there is a baby in the property and the property is currently at maximum occupancy the property will become overcrowded once the baby turns one.

If you are served with an overcrowding notice, you have to do something to reduce the number of people living in the property. This probably means starting the process to evict one of the people living there. However, your tenants still have a right to due process of law. If they have a tenancy agreement and they have not breached the terms of this agreement, you may not be able to get a possession order. In this case, you may need to offer the tenant alternative accommodation or some kind of bonus in order to incentivise them to leave.

If you don’t take steps to try to comply with an overcrowding notice, the council can make you pay a penalty of £5,000.

Appealing an overcrowding notice

You can appeal an overcrowding notice at County Court.