Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Bill passed by Assembly

Date published: 15 March 2016

Social Development Minister, Lord Morrow MLA, has welcomed the Assembly’s approval of a Bill that will provide better protection for tenants living in houses in multiple occupation.

Image shows row of red brick terrace houses

The Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Bill will introduce a new mandatory licensing regime requiring landlords to meet important quality and safety standards before an HMO is let. This licensing regime will also be linked to planning, ensuring that the concentration of HMOs is managed.

The licensing and regulation of HMOs will be a matter for local councils.

Welcoming the approval of the Bill, Minister Morrow said: "HMOs are an important part of the housing mix and can provide affordable rented housing for a range of tenants including students, migrant workers and those on low incomes.

“The key aim of this Bill is to better protect tenants and I am pleased it has passed its Final Stages today.

“This new regulatory approach will ensure that landlords and managing agents renting out properties have a legal responsibility to the tenants to keep flats and houses safe and well maintained.”

The Bill will introduce a new mandatory licensing scheme which builds on good practice from other parts of the UK.

The Minister continued: “The introduction of a new mandatory licensing scheme will help improve the standards of accommodation for tenants living in HMOs and in the private rented sector more generally.

“This revised system of HMO regulation, which will now rest with Councils, means that this important function will now sit more appropriately with other critical government functions such as planning, building control and environmental health.”

Current regulation relies on criminal offences. This new Bill will include the use of Fixed Penalties up to £5000 for non-compliance with the licensing regime, allowing councils to ensure speedy, appropriate and cost-effective enforcement.

The maximum fine for failing to have a licence is £20,000.

Notes to editors: 

  1. A building or part of a building is an HMO, if it is living accommodation occupied by 3 or more persons as their only or main residence and those persons form more than 2 households and rents are payable or other consideration is to be provided in respect of occupation by at least one of those persons.
  2. The Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Bill completed its Final Stage in the NI Assembly on 15 March 2016 and will now go forward for Royal Assent.
  3. This new Bill will transfer responsibility for regulating HMOs to councils. A stakeholder group has been formed to take forward the transfer and will work with councils on funding arrangements, including potential set-up costs. The main provisions of the Bill will come into operation on a date appointed in an order by the Department following liaison and agreement with councils. As part of this process, the Department will also publish a code of practice and guidance for the operation of the licensing scheme to help councils and landlords meet the requirements.
  4. The Bill specifies:
    - that only rented properties are to be included as HMOs
    - that a fundamental requirement for designation as an HMO will be the sharing of amenities
    - people count as occupants only if the accommodation is their only or main residence
    - the list of persons who will not count in the determination of an HMO and expands it to include others outside the standard family relationship, such as domestic help and some carers
    - that living accommodation which ceases to operate as an HMO because the occupancy level has reduced, should continue to be treated as an HMO for the entire licensing period, for the purposes of regulatory activity
    - the maximum fine for failing to have a licence is £20,000
  5. Media enquiries to DSD Press Office on 028 9082 9233 or email out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.

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