Introduction of new licensing scheme for Houses in Multiple Occupation

Date published: 15 March 2019

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A new licensing scheme aimed at improving conditions for occupiers and addressing issues that can affect neighbourhoods will be introduced for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO’s) from 1 April 2019.

The licensing scheme will be the responsibility of local councils as the HMO regulatory function will transfer from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) to local councils from 1 April 2019. It will require landlords to meet important quality and safety standards before an HMO is let. This regulatory regime will also be linked to planning, ensuring that the concentration of HMOs is managed.

Belfast City Council will manage the licensing scheme on behalf of all local authorities in Northern Ireland.  More information is available on the Belfast City Council website. Belfast City Council will also launch an advertising campaign on Monday 18 March, to include online, radio and newspapers, to ensure landlords and tenants are aware of the change in responsibilities. It is intended that all local councils will share this messaging and information widely.

The licensing scheme will be managed by the NI HMO Unit based in Belfast City Council; they will process applications and enforce the regulations across NI, ensuring the terms and conditions of the licences are complied with by landlords. The decision on whether to award a licence will be the responsibility of the local council in which the HMO is located.

The new system will work more effectively because HMO regulation will be linked to other critical functions, such as planning, building control and environmental health, all of which are under the responsibility of district councils.

David Polley from the Department for Communities said: “From 1 April 2019 Councils will be responsible for HMO regulation carrying out checks and inspections to ensure that the property is suitable for the specified maximum number of persons intending to occupy it. This is about improving the quality of this type of private rented accommodation and is something which should be welcomed by landlords, those living in HMOs and those living around them.

“Well managed multi-occupancy houses are an important part of the housing market in Northern Ireland. New licensing arrangements will mean councils will be expected to work with landlords and owners of HMOs to ensure flats and houses are safe and well maintained.

“HMO licensing is mainly intended to improve conditions for occupiers. It also impacts on issues that can affect neighbourhoods as a whole. So while landlords are not responsible for their tenant’s actions, this can support more active engagement in terms of enforcing tenancy conditions if problems arise. This can include issues of noise or rubbish, arising from licensed HMOs.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. Whilst the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 has been granted Royal Assent and introduced into law, most of the Sections contained within have not yet been enacted. The laying of the regulations enact the remaining sections of the HMO Act 2016 which will see responsibility for HMO regulation transfer from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to Councils and provide further clarity on the requirement of the licensing scheme. The HMO function transfer and the introduction of a new licensing scheme are previous Ministerial commitments, based on Primary Legislation in the NI Assembly, and will take affect after the Department laid regulations to enact the legislation
  2. In the HMO Act 2016 the meaning of a “house in multiple occupation” is a building or part of a building that is classed as living accommodation occupied three or more persons who are all not members of the same family or of one or other of two families; in specific types of accommodation; with use of prescriptive basic amenities
  3. Councils will have various functions relating to enforcement of the HMO licensing regime, ranging from powers to vary and revoke licences, to powers to impose Fixed Penalty Notices and summary conviction offences.  It will be a criminal offence for landlords to manage a licensable HMO without holding the appropriate licence for a house in multiple occupation.  The maximum fine for failing to have a licence is £5,000 for a fixed penalty notice and £20,000 on summary conviction
  4. The maximum that can be charged for a HMO licence is £45 as per the regulations.  The agreed charge will be £37 per person per annum. The person in this case means the occupant of the HMO. This means for example, that if a HMO has 10 occupants it will cost the applicant £370 per annum
  5. Latest figures provided by the Housing Executive shows there are approx 5,700 HMOs registered many of these are in the Holylands and in the Coleraine University area. The number of people living in this tenure could be as many as 30,000
  6. Media enquiries to DfC Press Office on 028 9082 3505 of email: press.office@communities-ni.gov.uk. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Office on 028 9037 8110
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