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General Guidance on Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

The Private Sector Housing team aims to ensure that privately rented properties, particularly HMOs, are safe, decent and well managed.


  • What is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)?
  • What does the Council do about HMOs in its district?
  • How to contact us

Everyone deserves a safe and healthy place to live and the Council uses the national Housing Health and Safety Rating System to evaluate potential risks from any deficiencies found in the property. The Council also uses the HMO Management and Licensing Regulations to ensure that the properties have the right amenities and are well managed.

Most HMOs are of a good standard, however, some HMOs often have poor physical and management standards than other privately rented accommodation.  The people who live in them in some cases are often the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society and, as HMOs may be their only housing option, it is vital that they are properly regulated.

What is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)?

A HMO is any dwelling that is lived in by people, as their main home, who do not form a single household, and who share some or all facilities, for example, a kitchen or bathroom.  This now includes:

  • Houses and flats in multiple occupation
  • Certain converted houses to flats in multiple occupation
  • Student accommodation - see also - Student Accommodation Accreditation Scheme
  • Licensable HMOs - see also - HMO Licensing
  • Hostels
  • Some Care Homes
  • Some Bed and Breakfast accommodation

household is:

  • A single person
  • Couples in a relationship, or couples living as husband and wife, and couples in same-sex relationships
  • Relatives living together, including parents, grandparents, children and step-children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces or cousins
  • Half relatives are treated as full relatives.  A foster child living with a foster parent is treated as living in the same household as the foster parent

So if the house or flat you live in, or own, has occupants who are not partners or household members, then it is probably an HMO.

All HMOs with five or more occupiers forming two or more households will require a licence under the Housing Act 2004.

If you are an owner of a property and you intend to use a property as a HMO then you may need planning permission for change of use.  You should contact the Planning Department on 01206 282424 for further information.


What does the Council do about HMOs in its district?

The Private Sector Housing team regularly inspects HMOs.  These inspections are prioritised so that the higher-risk premises (the licensable HMOs and any non-licensable HMOs with a poor history, or managed by someone with a poor record) will be inspected more often. Any complaint about the conditions in an HMO, whether licensed or not, will be investigated.

Since 2000, the Council has operated a Student Accommodation Accreditation Scheme (SAAS).

The SAAS was introduced at a time when the mandatory licensing requirements for HMOs incorporated a relatively small number of properties within the Borough. It was an aspirational scheme that aimed to bring properties occupied by students up to a higher standard than could be enforced under the applicable legislation.

The scheme has been successful in improving the standard of accommodation occupied by students, including smaller HMOs that did not fall within the limited scope of mandatory licensing at the time.

The scope of mandatory HMO licensing was extended by legislation that came into effect on 1 October 2018. A large number of properties that previously would not have required a licence will now fall within the remit of the legislation.

This legislative change means that the Council considers that there is no need to continue with this voluntary accreditation scheme within the Borough.

Student Accreditation Certificates have a five-year duration, when these expire, they will not be renewed.

Particular attention is paid to:

  • Fire safety - including fire detection and alarms, emergency lighting, and a safe escape route
  • See Fire Safety Guide 2008 - LACORS. This is carried out in consultation with Essex County Fire and Rescue Service
  • Space standards and overcrowding - the size and layout of rooms, and numbers of occupants
  • Amenities - bathing, toilet and cooking facilities. See - Essex Amenity Standards for HMOs COP
  • The general state of cleanliness, and the management of the HMO See - Essex Amenity Standards for HMOs COP
  • Gas safety - appliances must be inspected annually and a current Landlord's Gas Safety Certificate made available to the tenants
  • Electrical safety - the electrical installation and appliances should be inspected regularly, at least once every five years, and for all appliances that the landlord supplies a Portable Appliances test should be carried out at least once every three years.
  • Furniture safety - any furniture provided by the landlord must meet fire safety standards
  • Any disrepair and defects

The owner, or manager, of a HMO is responsible for ensuring that the property is adequately maintained, managed and, where appropriate, licensed. 

Where we inspect a HMO, initially we will adopt an informal approach writing to both tenant(s) and the owner or manager highlighting all the issues. This will give the owner or manager 28 days to resolve the issues with regard to the complaint. However as this is a HMO we will arrange an informal visit to the property to carry out an assessment and again write to the owner or manager with a schedule of works and timescales to carry out the work in relation to the HHSRS, the management regulations, and amenity standards, again the owner or manager will be given a period of time in which to address any hazards or management issues found.

If however, an owner or manager does not respond or refuses to do the work then we will visit and may adopt a more formal approach. Any action that we take will be in accordance with our Enforcement and Civil Penalties Policy.  To help us determine whether we need to take any formal action we will make an appointment to visit the property (this will be under the notice of entry) and carry out an assessment of the property using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and the management regulations for HMOs. 

This assessment looks at any deficiencies and hazards in the property and helps us determine what action we need to take. This may mean we serve a statutory notice on the owner or manager, or letting agent managing the property, requiring them to carry out remedial works within a reasonable time.

Where there has been no appeal against such a notice, and the landlord has not carried out the works within the time allowed, then the Council may carry out the works and recover the costs from the landlord.

Sometimes the assessed risk is so low that we cannot make the landlord carry out the works. 

Where work is requested under the management regulations there is no notice or appeal, if the manager of the property (landlord or managing agent) fails to carry out the work then prosecution may be brought against them.


Landlord and Tenant Rights and Responsibilities in the Private Rented Sector

A document has been produced and is available to help both landlords and tenants. It sets out the roles and responsibilities of both parties when letting or renting a property in the private rented sector.

Landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities in the private rented sector

How to contact us

Tenants: If you live in a HMO and you want further information, or have concerns about the conditions you live in then contact the Private Sector Housing team in confidence, your details will not be given out.

Owner or Manager: If you are an owner or manager and wish to inform us about an HMO that you own or run you can contact the Private Sector Housing team via Colchester Borough Council's Customer Services based at the Library and Community Hub, Trinity Square, Colchester. The offices are open 9.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday.

Fill in and submit our Private Sector Housing Advice/Complaint Form

Private Sector Housing Advice/Complaint Form

Email us at: 

Telephone us on 01206 282581  Textphone users should dial 18001 01206 282581

Please help us to help you:

  • If you have a complaint or enquiry then contact us straight away.
    Provide us with as much information as you can and always give your name, address, and a telephone number (if you have one). If you are a tenant, give details of your landlord and whether you rent a room or a whole property. This information will be required to progress the case.