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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 (HMOs).

HMO doorbells





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 of nuisances.

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 work

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
  • Repairs
  • Amenity provision
  • Management
  • HMO Licensing

Size and layout - HMOs of 3 or more storeys are likely to have a much higher fire risk than single family houses.

Management - good management and regular checking and cleaning of the common areas ensures problems are minimised.

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 HMOs.


More information can be found on the other HMO related pages in this section.

HMO Fire safety

HMO Licensing information

HMO standards

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