When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Overcrowding in shared housing

When a landlord applies for a licence for a HMO, the property is approved for a maximum number of persons. If there are more people living in the property than the license allows, the landlord has committed an offence.

If the property is not a HMO, the only protection from overcrowding is if the council believes that the problem is causing a statutory nuisance.

Find out if your shared home should be a licensed HMO.

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 which sets 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 19.5m2.

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 which 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.

Getting help with overcrowding

Get advice if you think your HMO is overcrowded. You can report your concern to the council’s HMO unit, who will inspect the property to see if there are more people living there than are allowed by the license.

What happens if a HMO is overcrowded?

Allowing a HMO to become overcrowded is an offence. The council can serve an overcrowding notice on a landlord 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.

The landlord must then do something to reduce the overcrowding in the property. This probably means starting the process to evict one of the people living there. If the landlord doesn’t take steps to try to comply with an overcrowding notice, the council can make the landlord pay a penalty of £5,000.

Get advice if you’ve been asked to leave your HMO. You still have a right to due process of law and your tenancy agreement may protect you from eviction for a period of time.