Jon Graham: Protecting Yourself as a Tenant in an HMO
Leasehold life is very pleased to welcome new guest contributor Jon Graham, founder of Dwell, an estate agent in Leeds. Here, Jon focuses on the rights of HMO tenants and where to go when those rights are being violated.
Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are becoming a very popular property investment model for landlords. Rather than renting out an entire home to one household, usually a family, HMO landlords rent out individual rooms to individual parties.
The HMO model is generally more profitable for landlords, as the combined rent of several rooms is usually more than the rent on a house as a whole. While the majority of HMO landlords do their business in an ethical manner, there are some who see it as a means of getting as much money as possible from their property, with little regard for their tenants.
This is often done through converting smaller rooms into bedrooms to rent out, and by neglecting the shared living areas of a property, as technically tenants are not paying for them.
In October 2018, laws were tightened around what HMO landlords needed to provide for their tenants in an attempt to improve living conditions. However, a lack of education on their rights, along with a limited availability of affordable housing, has left some tenants without a voice when their rights are being violated by landlords.
Here is an outline of those rights when living in an HMO, and where to go if you feel they are not being adhered to.
Required living conditions of HMOs
The laws around the living conditions that HMO landlords need to provide for their tenants fall into two categories: specific and vague.
Specific laws include:
- Single bedrooms need to have at least 6.51 square metres of usable floor space, with double bedrooms requiring 10.22 square metres. “Usable floor space” is defined as any area of floor where there is at least 1.5 metres between the floor and the ceiling.
- There needs to be a bath or shower, and at least one toilet for every four tenants.
- A stove and oven is required, with an annual gas safety check.
- Outdoor waste disposal needs to be provided which is collected by the council or a third party agency.
- Basic utilities such as electricity and hot water need to be provided.
- Smoke alarms need to be fitted in all communal living areas, electrical safety checks need to be carried out every 5 years, and a fire evacuation plan needs to be visible.
Vague laws include:
- Landlords must prevent “overcrowding” of the property.
- Property needs to be sufficiently heated.
Specific laws are easily quantifiable, and you alone should be able to provide evidence to make a case against your landlord if you feel the laws are being broken. Violations of the “vague” laws will require a third party inspection from the council.
Tenants’ rights to privacy from landlords
Landlords cannot enter the rooms that their tenants are renting (usually their bedroom) without consent. Even when consent is given, landlords must give at least 24 hours notice before they enter their tenants bedroom.
As tenants are not technically paying for the living areas of the house, there is no law governing landlords’ rights to enter these areas. It is not unreasonable for tenants to ask for 24 hours before entering, and this should be agreed upon before moving in.
In agreements where bills are included in rent, the landlord does have the right to monitor the amount of energy being used, however they still have the responsibility to ensure that their property is sufficiently heated.
Tenants have the right to live free from harassment by their landlord. Examples of such harassment can include:
- Turning off basic utilities for no obvious reason (such as safety)
- Threatening eviction even when no agreements have been breached
- Entering private rooms without consent or notice
- Any other threatening behaviour
Any harassment from a landlord should be reported to the police.
What to do if your tenants’ rights are being violated
Often landlords fail to meet their responsibilities to tenants simply due to their absence or ignorance. In these cases you should speak to your landlord directly. Be specific about what the problems are and how they violate either your tenancy agreement or the HMO licencing laws and offer a reasonable time frame for the problems to be fixed.
Should this fail, then you should raise a complaint with your local council. They are the ones who approve HMO licences and house the bodies that inspect HMOs for worthiness. Should your local council deem a landlord as failing to meet their requirements, they will offer a window for changes to be made. If the landlord fails to make the changes then they will be fined up to £20,000 and may lose their HMO licence.