Houses in Multiple Occupation - General Guidance

Everyone deserves a safe and healthy place to live and the Private Sector Housing team aims to ensure that privately rented properties are safe and well managed.

Colchester has a thriving private rented sector. One of the biggest growth areas in Colchester's private rented market is Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). Colchester City Council recognises the important contribution good quality HMOs make to the provision of affordable housing for Colchester residents. We want to make sure that tenants in HMOs live in safe and healthy homes by providing advice to both landlords and tenants and where appropriate enforcing the relevant legislation.

The Council uses the Housing Health and Safety Rating System to evaluate potential risks from any deficiencies found in the property.Housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS): guidance for landlords and property-related professionals.

The Council also usesThe Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006and Licensing Regulations to ensure that the properties have the right amenities and are well managed.

What is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)?

The full definition of an HMO is set out within the Housing Act 2004.

In summary, a rented property is an HMO if:
  • The property is the tenant's only or main residence and
  • The occupants share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet, and
  • There are three or more tenants who make up two or more households, or
  • It is a building converted into self-contained flats, the conversion did not meet the 1991 Building Regulation standards and short-term tenancies are in place for more than one-third of the flats

The HMO could be:

  • An entire house or flat
  • A house converted into bedsits or other non-self-contained accommodation
  • A converted house which contains one or more flats that are not wholly self-contained
  • Student accommodation
  • Hostels and refuges
  • Some specialist housing schemes such as supported living schemes.
  • Some Bed and Breakfast type accommodation if used as the resident’s main or only home.

Not all properties in multiple occupation fall within the HMO definition, as there are some excemptions. A property is not an HMO if it is a:

  • Property where the landlord and his household are resident with up to two tenants
  • Two-person flat share
  • Property or part of a property lived in by no more than two households each of which consists of only one person
  • Building occupied entirely by freeholders or long leaseholders
  • Building managed or controlled by a public body, such as the police or NHS, a local housing authority or registered social landlord
  • Building where the residential accommodation is not the main use of the building, such as religious buildings
  • Building which is already regulated (and where the description of the building is specified in regulations) such as care homes or prisons
The term household is also set out in the Housing Act 2004 and includes:
  • Couples in a relationship, or couples living as husband and wife, and couples in same-sex relationships
  • A single person
  • Relatives living together, including parents, grandparents, children and stepchildren, 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
  • An owner occupier can have up to 2 lodgers living with them, but if they have more than 2, the property could be an HMO.

What does the Council do about HMOs?

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.

All complaints or reports about suspect HMOs, the conditions in an HMO (whether licensable or not) and unlicensed HMOs will be investigated.

Particular attention is paid to:

The owner, or manager, of a HMO is responsible for ensuring that they are compliant with their legal obligations and that the property is adequately maintained, managed and, where appropriate, licensed.

Any action that we take will be in accordance with the approach set out in our Enforcement and Civil Penalties Policy.

HMO Mandatory Licensing

All HMOs with five or more occupiers, forming two or more households, are required to be licensed under the Housing Act 2004.

Find more information on HMO Licensing and how to apply.

Information for Tenants

If you think that you live in an HMO and are unsure if the property meets required standards, is in poor repair or poorly managed, contact your landlord or agent and give them the opportunity to resolve the issues. If they fail to take action, find more guidance on what you can do.

If you think that you live in an HMO that should be licensed, the licence should be displayed in the property. If you are unsure if the property is licensed, you can check on the Public Register of HMO Licences.

If you live in an HMO that should be licensed and it isn’t listed on the Public Register, check with your landlord or agent as they may be in the process of applying for a licence. If they fail to take action, then you can report the matter to us, find further information on reporting.

Information for Landlords/managers/agents

If, having looked at the guidance documents above, you need bespoke advice on setting up an HMO to ensure that you are compliant with your legal obligations, the Council provides a paid for advice service. Find further information.

If you need to apply for an HMO licence, you should do so before the property is occupied as a licensable HMO. Find further information on applying.

If you are setting up a new HMO or wish to let us know about an HMO which you own or manage, please do so by emailing

If you intend to use a property as an HMO then you may need planning permission for change of use if you intend to have more than 6 occupiers.

Page last reviewed: 3 January 2024


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