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HMO confusion in London – Why is there no uniformity on definition?

September 30th, 2016
HMO confusion in London – Why is there no uniformity on definition?

This article looks into the irregularities in London borough, definitions of a HMO property and works to find order and reasoning in them.

There have been questions raised as to what a HMO property actually is by many renting or managing in different boroughs of London. There appears to be a lack of uniformity which is responsible, adding a degree of unforeseen difficulty to managing property portfolios in the City and surrounding areas. While many councils are forthcoming with information about what defines a HMO property in their specific region, managers can not understand why there are variations.

Defining a HMO property:

In accordance with the official Government definitions, a House of Multiple Occupations must follow certain characteristics to apply. Firstly, there must be at least 3 tenants forming multiple households. This is a specified requirement in terms of both quantities of tenants and situation of tenants. ‘Multiple households’ essentially means that there must be at least two people with in the property not in a relationship or related. Local Boroughs in London follow the 2004 Housing Act definition of a household which is as described. For the Large HMO property category, there are differing characteristics required, including a building of over 3 storeys and 5 tenants, sharing base facilities.

There are many London boroughs which do appear to apply the government definition in describing what is required to be an HMO property in their area. Hackney and Camden both apply the same base requirements, in terms of quantity of tenants and numbers of minimal households. There are, however, specified details within their definitions which do have some importance. Unlike the official Government definition, Camden places no requirement for there to be any physical scale to the property, while Hackney specifies a requirement for there to be a minimum of a third of tenancies to be short-term. Both of these stipulations deviate from each other in order to meet local standards. Despite this, there is still uniformity of the core make up of a HMO property. Managers in these cases need only look at finer print for Hackney so as not to be caught out by the short term tenancy requirement. Hounslow follows Hackney in this regard, making it an important rule to understand when dealing with London property.

The deviations:

Thus far it would appear that despite additional stipulations most London councils follow the core HMO property definition of 3 or more tenants and 2 or more households. However, this central factor is proven to not apply in some. Barnet borough only stipulates the requirement for multiple households, meaning that their HMO properties are able to be housing just 2 people. Bexley follows suit, also placing no requirement for there to be 3 tenants, thus allowing for there to be smaller HMO properties that defy Government definitions.

Is there a rule to this?

Establishing a rule as to why there are deviations in the way London Boroughs treat HMO properties is not precise. Each council has very different demographics and environments in which to operate due to the scale of the city and the quantity of people both wanting to live there and already living there. From the examples used throughout this article, there would appear to be one correlation. Councils closer to the centre of London (Camden/Hackney) follow the minimum number of tenant at 3 rule, while periphery boroughs (Barnet and Bexley) do not. This additional flexibility may be down to the fact that there is less demand and shortage of property in their areas comparatively, or that properties suitable for being a HMO are smaller on the outskirts of the city. There appears to be uniformity on ‘Large’ HMO properties due to the requirement for licences, but for smaller ones local conditions have a degree of impact.

Concluding thoughts

It is thus clear that confusion over defining HMO property in London is justified as there are a variety of stipulations throughout different councils across the capital. However, detailed information is provided from these council in most cases, meaning that it is possible to navigate this particular lack of uniformity within property definitions easily.

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