Is my student let a HMO or not?

by Readers Question

9:51 AM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

Is my student let a HMO or not?

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Is my student let a HMO or not?

I rent a property to students through a local student Lettings company and have done so for many years. It is let to groups of friends under a joint tenancy, there are no individual bedroom locks and as such I believe that it is not a HMO.

Recently the students have requested individual locks on their bedroom doors, I am unsure legally if I can do this as I believe it is not an HMO and by putting locks on the doors could I be jeopardising my insurance etc?

Also from speaking with the fire brigade they are against internal door locks as this causes problems in the unfortunate event of a fire and gaining access.

Many thanks

Brett



Comments

Neil Patterson

10:22 AM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

Hi Brett,

To Assist I have the Citizens Advice guidance for students but it will be classified as an HMO >> https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/renting-a-home/student-housing/students-in-private-rented-accommodation/student-housing-living-in-a-house-in-multiple-occupation-hmo/

"Students often live in shared houses or flats. Many of these properties are houses in multiple occupation (HMO). If you live in an HMO, your landlord has extra legal responsibilities and may need a licence for the property.

This page outlines some of the key issues that you need to know about if you live in an HMO.
What is an HMO?

There is a complex legal definition setting out what an HMO is. However, in general terms, it is a building where more than one household lives and shares facilities.

A single household is where members of the same family live together, including unmarried couples. For example, if you lived with a friend and a couple that is three households.

Students living in the following types of accommodation are likely to be living in HMOs:

a house or flat which is let to three or more people who form two or more households and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet
a house converted into bedsits or other forms of non self-contained accommodation, which is let to three or more people who form two or more households.

For a property to be an HMO, it has to be used only or mainly as residential accommodation. It also has to be the occupiers' only or main home, but this includes any students undertaking a full-time course of further or higher education.
Buildings that are not HMOs

Certain buildings occupied by students, such as halls of residence, may be excepted from the definition of an HMO. Halls that are controlled and managed by an educational establishment which has signed up to an approved code of practice cannot be HMOs.

Properties that are managed by local authorities and other social housing landlords, such as housing associations, do not count as HMOs.
What does it mean to live in an HMO?

If you live in an HMO your landlord has to meet extra responsibilities which are in addition to their repair responsibilities. These are on:

fire and general safety – mainly the provision of properly working smoke and/or heat detectors with alarms and a safe means of escape in case of fire
water supply and drainage – these cannot be unreasonably interrupted and must be kept clean and in good repair
gas and electricity – appliances and installations must be safe, which includes arranging an annual gas safety check and having electrical installations checked at least every five years
communal areas – such as staircases, halls, corridors and entrances, must be kept in good decorative repair, clean and reasonably free from obstructions
waste disposal – there must be enough bins for rubbish and adequate means of disposing of rubbish
living accommodation – the living accommodation and any furniture supplied must be clean and in good repair. "

James Barnes

11:35 AM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

Any shared house occupied by 3 or more people who form 2 or more households, and who share facilities will be a HMO. Whether they have a shared tenancy agreement or individual agreement is irrelevant.

With regard to locks on doors, as long as doors can be unlocked internally without the use of a key i.e. a with a thumb turn lock, then there shouldn't be any problems. It'd be recommended that the final exit door is a thumb turn lock or other style that can't be locked internally with a key. The nightmare scenario is you or your tenants being locked in a burning building because you can't find the key to get out.

David Rose

11:51 AM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

As for the locks, our local fire officer has a rule of thumb - can you get out of the house, drunk, in your PJ's, having burnt one hand ?
If you can, then he passes that part of it.
Thumb turn locks on the exit path have been mandatory in many areas for at least 5 years.

Puzzler

12:55 PM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

More than two unrelated people is an HMO, not sure why you or your agent would think students to be any different. Why would locks affect the insurance? The fire service would have no problem with internal locks (what about bathrooms??) - in an emergency they would simply break down the door and as another poster says: a lock which releases from the inside solves that problem

Martin Roberts

13:08 PM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

Good advice above, and regarding locks if your tenants will be happier then I'd fit them.

Won't cost much and I like happy tenants.

John Frith

13:11 PM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Neil Patterson at 30/10/2017 - 10:22
"If you live in an HMO your landlord has to meet extra responsibilities which are in addition to their repair responsibilities. These are on:

fire and general safety – mainly the provision of properly working smoke and/or heat detectors with alarms and a safe means of escape in case of fire"

I have been researching this, and I believe that government guidelines suggests that standards should be more stringent than this.

My understanding is that safety in the common areas of HMO`s, blocks of flats or Maisonettes are controlled by Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), and this order lays down the legal requirements. Section 9.1 states:

"The responsible person must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed on him by or under this Order"

So then I looked at the governments guidelines for doing a fire risk assessment, and found the 150 page guide "Fire Risk Assessment for Sleeping Accommodation":

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/422192/9281_Sleeping_Accomodation_v2.pdf

On page 55 is "Table 1: Suggested standard of automatic fire detection", and for HMO's it lists a "Grade D LD2 or 3" system. It goes on to clarify that:

"Grade D LD3
an automatic fire detection system (designed for dwellings) based on interconnected mains powered smoke alarms (with battery back-up) with detectors sited in escape routes (including rooms that open on to escape routes), detailed in BS 5839-6/90"

I have yet to find out what the guidelines for fire doors are, but I suspect it will be equally stringent.

I'm aware that these are only "guidelines", but what is the case to not follow them?

Robert Mellors

21:04 PM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

Hi Brett

Your accommodation is definitely a HMO, it makes no difference whether it is let on one AST or multiple (individual) ASTs, and it makes no difference whether the tenants are students or any other category of persons, if they are not family then it is a HMO.

As a HMO you are bound by the HMO fire regulations, the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), and of course the very stringent HMO legislation "The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006". The Act (HMO Regs) is worded in such a way as to enable Councils to interpret it widely, even to the point of demanding that you go there and pick up items tenants put down in communal areas, or redecorate a wall if a tenant puts a scratch on the paintwork, or go and clean the cooker if the tenants can't be bothered to do so, etc.

In relation to the fire regs, you will need to ensure that all doors to bedrooms and communal rooms (and even the cellar) are proper 30 min fire doors with self closers and smoke and heat seals etc, complete with fire rated hardware (hinges) and thumb turn locks. You will also need to ensure that there is a mains interlinked fire alarm system meeting the requirements for the particular layout of your property.

You will also need to ensure that there is a protected means of escape, e.g. you may need to put in stud walls to create a corridor or add fire escape windows.

Depending on your property, and what you have already got in the property to satisfy the Regs, this could easily cost you many thousands of pounds, but if you fail to do this and the Council decide to prosecute you, you could end up with an unlimited fine, have to repay all the rent you've received, and/or be banned from letting properties in the future.

If your "agent" has not advised you of all this, then you may wish to find a more competent agent, or educate your agent very quickly.

I would suggest that you download a copy of the guidance from your local council website, and also a copy of "The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006", and then study it, and implement it to the best of your abilities.

John Frith

23:18 PM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

Also, if that's not enough, Brett needs to check if the local council have introduced any selective licensing. If they have, and it applies to his property, then ...... Well, let's hope it's not.

Robert Mellors

23:57 PM, 30th October 2017
About 12 months ago

Brett, you say that it is let to a group of friends, but how many are in the group? how many students do you have living there? If there are 3 or more then it is a HMO, and you are subject to a whole raft of legislation (as outlined above), and as John says, you also need to check whether the area is subject to "selective licensing". If there are 5 or more tenants, then even if not subject to selective licensing, you will be subject to the mandatory HMO licensing.

Be aware that the criteria is the number of people living there, NOT the number of tenants on the tenancy agreement, so for example if you let to one tenant but you know there are five unrelated people living there, then it would be classed as a five person HMO (even though four of them are not mentioned on the tenancy agreement).

Michael Holmes

11:49 AM, 1st November 2017
About 12 months ago

I am not so sure the houses can be classed as HMO's unless they are over two storeys regardless of the makeup of the tenants, certainly that is the interpretation Cornwall Council has put on the classification to date.

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