History and enforcement of Houses in Multiple Occupation
The Council is the Local Housing
Authority in this area and has the responsibility for
enforcing the provisions of the Housing Act 2004 and the associated
regulations to uphold standards in Houses in Multiple Occupation
Multiple doorbells - HMO?
Landlords sometimes ask why Councils get involved with
controlling the conditions in rented housing - the answer is
connected with the history of public health, because poor housing
was the original driver for change which resulted in the first
local authorities and the first sanitary inspectors, or inspectors
In the last century HMOs provided the general
population with basic housing that they could afford. Often one
family lived in one room, sharing the kitchen and an outside privy
with all their neighbours. The industrial revolution had a huge
effect on the living conditions of working people and when it was
at its height, people from the country flocked to find work in the
towns and were often squeezed into already overcrowded housing. Bad
housing was identified as a source of disease and soon local and
national politicians were trying to legislate to make houses safer
and more healthy. It was common for many families to share one
water supply and one 'privy' (WC).
There followed many attempts by various
governments to bring in laws to make houses safer and more healthy.
Sometimes these failed because of local political infighting but
the main problem was that there were too few houses for too many
people and there was a huge demand for cheap rooms. There also
needed to be inspectors to check that the laws were being adhered
to - within a structure which we now know as local authorities. The
building of sewers and providing healthy water supplies was part of
the early work these new public bodies carried out.
In 1919 the Ministry of Health issued the first manual on Unfit
Houses. After two world wars there emerged a different attitude
about how Britain should be rebuilt, following so much destruction.
People wanted decent homes to replace the old slums that
existed before. By 1957 there was a new Housing Act which
set out a standard of fitness by which all
residential property (both owner occupied and rented housing)
should be judged as to whether it was for fit for human habitation.
This minimum fitness standard was the benchmark for modern housing
with proper facilities, water supply and drainage, plenty of
natural light and ventilation, well designed rooms and staircases
that you could climb without risking a fall! This standard served
well to improve housing for nearly 50 years. Building Regulations
also improved the quality of all new houses, so standards
continued to rise.
The old 'fitness standard' has now been
superseded in 2004 by a system of risk assessment that
correlates the possible harm to occupiers from defects in their
houses. Linking your housing conditions to your health and well
being has prioritised common problems like damp and mould growth
and poor heating. This method now gives all occupiers of
housing a safety net of minimum standards which can ensure the
future for safe and healthy housing conditions.
This standard co-ordinates with Building Regulations to make
sure all new or improved buildings meet modern expectations
including insulation and energy efficiency as well as the basics
like solid foundations and damp proof courses, for example.
From the original HMOs (known as flop houses or
common lodging houses) to the modern day - we are still concerned
with the simple basics - the overall condition and repair, the
facilities, usually shared kitchens and bathrooms, the cleanliness
and maintenance of common areas, fire safety to minimise risk of
harm from the increased risk of fire in HMOS and the management of
the house - how it is looked after by the landlord.
How The Council Inspects and Prioritises HMO
The Council maintains a database of known and
suspected houses in multiple occupation. Each property is risk
assessed according to the basic criteria, listed below, which
are known to increase the chance of an HMO being 'high risk'.
The important safety and health issues to be addressed within
modern HMOs are:
- Fire safety
- Gas safety
- Electrical safety
- Amenity provision
- HMO Licensing
Size and layout - HMOs of 3 or more storeys are
likely to have a much higher fire risk than single family
Management - good management and regular checking
and cleaning of the common areas ensures problems are
Number of occupiers - the more occupiers, the more
likely there are to be problems such as overcrowding and pressure
on shared facilities.
Number and condition of facilities - insufficient
bathrooms, WCs and kitchens or disrepair of facilities can cause
stress and ill health to occupiers.
Repair - a house in poor repair will deteriorate
faster with the greater wear and tear of HMO use.
Once these categories have been risk rated and given a score, the
team prepare an inspection programme - worst first - to tackle
known HMOs in poor condition.
Following inspection, the Council has a range of options. The first
step, however, is to carry out a housing risk assessment called
HHSRS. This tells us how likely it is that the defects will cause
harm. If category 1 hazards are identified, the Council has a duty
to take action to remedy those hazards, using Improvement Notices
or Prohibition orders, for example. The Council will work
constructively with landlords to help them improve their properties
in the best way to make sure they are complying but still retain
the basic HMO qualities. It is not the Council's intention to
impose unnecessary improvements or 'gentrification' on this
important housing sector.
The Council's Good Practice
Guide gives landlords and tenants all the information they need
on standards in rented housing, both single houses and flats and
More information can be found on the other HMO related pages in
HMO Licensing information