Houses in Multiple Occupation

A House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) is a property that is shared by three or more tenants who are not members of the same family. HMO landlords must have a licence from the Local Council Housing Department. This ensures that the property is managed properly and meets certain safety standards. The licence will be valid for up to three years, and will then have to be renewed.


All housing is subject to The Housing Act 2004 and this includes HMOs. The act is enforced by the Local Housing Authority which in most cases will be the Local Council Housing Department. Also it important to understand that other pieces of fire safety legislation can be applied to HMOs.

Fire Safety in new and altered HMOs, blocks of flats and maisonettes, is subject to the Building Regulations and the guidance can be found on Fire Safety in New, Extended or Altered Buildings.

Fire safety in the common areas of HMOs, blocks of flats or Maisonettes are controlled by Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO), and this order lays down the legal requirements. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 Guidance Note No. 1 will help you understand the Order.

Because the RRFSO applies to HMOs the landlord or managing agent is usually designated as the Responsible Person (RP) under the Order.

Fire Safety Guidance for England and Wales

The most appropriate guide for the commons areas of HMOs and blocks of flats or maisonettes is Guide 3 – Sleeping accommodation and can be downloaded at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities web site. This guide is for all managers and owners of premises providing sleeping accommodation. It tells you about how you might comply with fire safety law, helps you to carry out a fire risk assessment in the common areas and identify the general fire precautions you need to have in place.

It has been written to provide guidance for a responsible person, to help them to carry out a fire risk assessment in less complex premises. If you read the guide and decide that you are unable to apply the guidance, then you should seek expert advice from a competent person. More complex premises will probably need to be assessed by a person who has comprehensive training or experience in fire risk assessment.

Definition of HMOs

Although the commons areas of all blocks of flats, maisonettes and HMOs are subject to the RRFSO it is important to know if your premises is specifically an HMO because you will have additional responsibilities under the Housing Act 2004.

As stated above, a house in multiple occupation will be a property occupied by more than one household and more than two people, and may include bed sits, shared houses and some self contained flats.

Houses fully converted into self-contained flats will generally not be HMOs provided that they were converted in accordance with the 1991 Building Regulation or later.

To find out whether your property is defined as an HMO under the Housing Act 2004, please check out the flow chart which should help you determine whether your property is an HMO and requires Licensing. The five parts of the flow chart mirrors Section 254 (1) a – e of The Housing Act 2004 and is an attempt to simplify Sections 254 to 262. It should be read in conjunction with the act if you require a full understanding.

However the final arbiters will be the Local House Authority.

Exemptions from the HMO definition

Certain types of buildings will not be HMOs for the purpose of the Act, other than Part One (HHSRS) and are, therefore, not subject to licensing. These include:

  • Buildings, or parts of buildings, occupied by no more than two households each of which comprise a single person, for example two person flat shares
  • Managed or owned by a public body, such as the police or the NHS or an LHA or a Registered Social Landlord,
  • Where the residential accommodation is ancillary to the principal use of the building, for example, religious establishments, conference centres
  • Student halls of residence, where the universities are specified as exempt by order
  • Buildings regulated otherwise than under the Act, such as care homes and bail hostels, the description of which are specified in regulations
  • Buildings entirely occupied by freeholders or long leaseholders (but note the problem of mixed occupancy properties)
  • For more details check out Schedule 14 of the Housing Act 2004.

Fire Precautions

The document Guide 3 – Sleeping accommodation should provide all the information you require to conduct a Fire Risk Assessment.

A brief summary of what actions are required by the Responsible Person (RP) are:

  • Complete a fire risk assessment and consider the fire precautions in the common areas and eliminate or reduce risks identified to the lowest possible level
  • Consider escape routes which may require the provision of a fire barrier between the common areas and the living accommodation to create a protected route to a place of ultimate safety.
  • Consider the need for a fire detection and warning system and whether it should be extended into the living accommodation
  • Consider the need for emergency escape lighting
  • Consider firefighting equipment and facilities
  • Consider the need for signs and notices
  • Consider recording, planning, informing, instructing and training which will require producing a fire action plan.


Any fire precautions provided will need to be maintained and this will cause no problems in the common areas, as they are easily accessed. However, if for example fire alarm systems have been extended into the living accommodations this may cause problems as domestic dwellings are exempt from the order and the tenants cannot be forced to co-operate with the RP. Therefore it is important that the tenancy agreement has a section devoted to Fire Safety that lays down duties the tenant has to abide by. This should include permission for the RP and any persons appointed by him/her to enter the living accommodation to carry out the maintenance of any fire safety equipment.


March 17, 2011[Last updated: April 22, 2022]

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