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Private landlords

Mandatory licensing laws for HMOs

Since 1 October 2018, the Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) mandatory licensing scheme no longer applies only to properties with three storeys or more, with five or more tenants. 

Under the new regulations, the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Prescribed Description)(England) Order 2018, it is mandatory for all multi-occupied properties to be licensed where there are:

  • five or more occupants from two or more separate households (families), and
  • where the building is either a converted building with living accommodations, or 
  • one which contains self-contained flats, but not a purpose-built block of flats.

The property no longer has to have three or more floors. Even if the property has one or two floors, but includes five or more occupants (unless they are one family), the landlord will need to apply to their local council for a mandatory HMO licence. 

There are heavy fines for anyone renting these types of premises without the correct licence.

You can view the council's public register of licensed HMOs.

Licence applications and HMO licensing changes

Part 2 of the Housing Act 2004 states local housing authorities must license Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in their area if they meet the definition of an HMO as prescribed under section 55 of the 2004 Act.

However, from 1 October 2018, the mandatory licensing requirements changed and they are no longer limited to HMOs that are three or more storeys high, but also include buildings with one or two storeys.

Making an application

In order to make the application process easier for landlords, St Helens Council has an online application and payment process:

Apply here

Definition of a licensable HMO

A licensable HMO can be one, two or more storeys in height; however, it must be occupied by five or more persons, from two or more separate households and who share facilities such as a bathroom, kitchen, toilet or living room.

It may include bedsits, shared houses, non-self-contained flats and some self-contained flats.

Houses fully converted into self-contained flats will not usually be HMOs as long as they were converted following 'appropriate' building regulation standards. As a minimum, this will be the 1991 Building Regulations.

In general, the sole use of the property must be as an HMO. However, the council may 'declare' a property to be an HMO where there is significant usage. A property meeting the above definition will require a five-year licence, which is renewable annually.

HMO Standards

If you let rooms in a property that qualifies as a HMO, the property must provide a safe, healthy and warm environment for your tenants.

More information about the standards required in various types of HMO property:

HMO Enforcement

The council works within an intervention and enforcement policy framework, which looks to ensure all enforcement procedures, whether formal or informal, are forwarded in an open, helpful, proportionate and consistent manner.

In order to ensure legal compliance, there are specific management regulations, which set out the way in which such a property should be managed.

The government is also planning to produce an approved code of practice describing good management standards.

Public Register of HMOs

You can view the council's public register of licenced HMOs

Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

Houses in Multiple Occupation pose a greater risk to the health and safety of people living in them. Very often, people who live in HMOs do not know the other people living in the building with them, and the risks of fire and other hazards arise as a result of this.

The Housing Act 2004 provides powers for us to inspect property for Category 1 and 2 hazards. Once inspected, we rate the likelihood that the hazard seen will cause harm to the people living in or visiting the property. To do this, we use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

Our housing inspectors are fully trained and authorised in this procedure and, following their inspection, they will rate any hazard seen and then consider the most appropriate action to take, e.g.

  1. informal action for low-level hazards such as writing to the landlord and listing the problem(s) seen, or
  2. serving formal notice for Category 1 and/or high-level Category 2 hazards stating what the hazard is and how it should be removed. 

Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Some HMOs will need to comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, (often referred to as the RRO or fire Safety Order). These will typically be houses let as bedsits, hostels and blocks of flats.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force on 1 October 2006. This legislation requires a competent and responsible person, who has a degree of control over the building, to carry out a satisfactory fire risk assessment, and implement and maintain adequate standards of fire safety in the building. The fire safety guidance sheet provides information for landlords.

You can contact us by:

E-mail: contactcentre@sthelens.gov.uk

Telephone: (01744) 676789

Writing to: Private Housing Initiatives, Town Hall, Victoria Square, St Helens, WA10 1HP

The council inspects properties that it identifies as being a potential House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). If conditions in the properties inspected are not up to standard, the landlord or owner is required to improve them.

What is a Multiple Occupancy Home?

Under the Housing Act 2004, the following types of property are all defined as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO):

  • An entire house or flat which is let to three or more tenants who form two or more households and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet.
  • A house which has been converted entirely into bedsits or other non-self-contained accommodation and which is let to three or more tenants who form two or more households and who share kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities.
  • A converted house which contains one or more flats, which are not wholly self-contained (i.e. the flat does not contain within it a kitchen, bathroom and toilet) and which is occupied by three or more tenants who form two or more households.
  • A building, which is converted entirely into self-contained flats if the conversion did not meet the standards of the 1991 Building Regulations and more than one-third of the flats, are let on short-term tenancies.

In order to be a HMO, the property must be used as the tenants’ only or main residence and it should be used solely or mainly to house tenants.  Properties let to students and migrant workers will be treated as their only or main residence and the same will apply to properties, which are used as domestic refuges.

There is a requirement for some types of HMO to be licensed.

If the council is concerned a property is an HMO, an inspection will take place to determine how safe the property is for residing or proposed tenants. One of the most important factors when conducting an inspection is to ensure the property has full fire protection facilities. 

Fire safety inspections in a HMO

HMOs pose a greater risk to the health and safety of people living in them. Very often, people who live in HMO's do not know who else lives in the same building with them, and the risks of fire and infection are therefore increased. HMO fire safety is therefore an important part of our inspection and consideration will be given to Lacors fire safety guidance, which states:

  • All HMOs of three storeys or more should have a panel controlled automatic fire alarm and detection system covering all parts of the premises, that is rooms, halls and stairs, kitchens etc.
  • All HMOs of two storeys should have a simpler system, but it should cover the same areas, all rooms, halls and stairs and kitchens. These systems do not have panel control but all the units are linked together so everyone is protected.
  • All self contained flats whether in a converted building or purpose built should have a fire alarm and detection system that covers each individual flat and may also be provided in the stairs and hallways.
  • All rented houses should have at least one smoke alarm positioned on each landing level of the stairs, so a two-storey house would have two alarms.
  • Most houses that are converted into self-contained flats will also require emergency lighting.
  • All fire alarm and detection systems require testing and maintenance.

Management of HMOs

An HMO inspection must be managed by a 'fit and proper' person and there are management regulations which set out the way in which such properties should be managed these are: 

If you require any further information please contact the private sector housing department by:

Telephoning: 01744 676789

Emailing: contactcentre@sthelens.gov.uk

Writing to: People's Services, Private Housing Initiatives, Town Hall, St Helens, WA10 1HP

Renting a safe home

All homes need to meet certain standards to ensure that they do not represent a risk to health and safety. Landlords should provide tenants with a property that provides a safe and healthy environment to live in. The Renting a Safe Home guide has been produced to identify hazards or health risks, to work out whether a property is safe and to explain what to do if it’s not.

National Landlords Association (NLA) and St Helens Council Private Sector Landlord Forum

The NLA and St Helens Council Private Sector Landlord Forum is open to all landlords and letting agents involved with letting private sector properties. The aims of the forum are to provide valuable information on a range of housing issues and forthcoming amendments to Government policy and regulations affecting the private rented sector. The Forum also provides a great opportunity to network with other landlords.

Guest speakers are invited to present at each forum. Where possible, presentations from each forum will be available in the documents section below.

If you would like to receive invites to future forums, please email vickywhittle@sthelens.gov.uk with your contact details.

Help and Support from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for Landlords

HMRC is offering a range of support and advice for residential property landlords to help them to understand when and how to pay tax on property that they let out. Please use the links below for further details.

Webinars, e-learning, emails and videos for landlords

e-learning for landlords

HMRC’s Let Property Campaign

The let property campaign is an opportunity for landlords who owe tax through letting out residential property, in the UK or abroad, to get up to date with their tax affairs in a simple, straightforward way and take advantage of the best possible terms.

Homelessness Early Intervention & Prevention Team

Attention landlords in St Helens: if your tenants are struggling to maintain their tenancy, there's free help available.

You may refer them to our Homelessness Early Intervention & Prevention Team, who'll:

  • contact the tenant and arrange a home visit,
  • help them to maximise their income,
  • assist them with budgeting,
  • ensure they're claiming benefits,
  • signpost them to other support services,
  • act as a main point of contact,
  • work with both landlord and tenant to resolve any issues.

The aim of our service is to prevent homelessness.

Referrals can be made by calling 01744 675142 or 07874 793035, or emailing karensweeney@sthelens.gov.uk, catherinesowler@sthelens.gov.uk or carlyburrows@sthelens.gov.uk.

Please view our housing options page, which offers lots of additional advice and services that may prove useful to you. There's also more information at www.sthelensgateway.info.

Statutory changes to the S21 Notice Procedure

From February 2016, the Right to Rent legislation came into force for all AST tenancies in England. Landlords or managing agents must now:

  1. Meet with tenant(s) face-to-face basis and verify they have the correct right to rent documents (passports/visas etc)
  2. Take copies of these documents
  3. Keep the document safe for future reference.

Along with the Right to Rent checks there are several other documents that landlords must give to a tenant(s) at the beginning of their tenancy.

The How to Rent link provides a booklet that must be provided to a tenant at the start of all new assured shorthold tenancies and replacement ASTs (including statutory periodic tenancies) that arise from now on.

Changes to S21 Notice Procedure

If a landlord wants to be successful in obtaining a valid S21 notice (after 1 October 2015) then the following documents must have been provided to a tenant in a hard copy format at the start of their tenancy (with relevant links) and these are:

  1. A current copy of the 10-year Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the rental property, when letting information is given or at the viewing whichever is sooner, and before the tenant enters the property.
  2. Provide the tenant/s with a current copy of the annual Gas Safety Certificate for the rental property before the tenant enters the property.
  3. Provide the tenant with a current copy of the Government Booklet: How to rent: the checklist for renting in England This MUST be the latest available version at the time of letting and on a tenancy renewal.
  4. Protect any Tenancy Deposit taken, plus serve the statutory information (s213 notice) and the scheme’s information leaflet within 30 days of receiving the deposit. Always get proof of service and remember that the statutory notice must provide reference to the clause in the tenancy agreement which spells out the circumstances under which monies can be withheld, e.g., rent arrears, service changes, damage etc (but not general usage i.e. wear and tear).

You must be able to prove you provided all of the above by having some sort of proof of service, or signed documents from your tenant(s).

It is very important to serve all of these notices at the start of the tenancy. Failure to provide them or trying to provide them later will generally invalidate any section 21 notice served.

The links below are additional 'How to' leaflets produced by the MHCLG, although these are guidance leaflets only.

However, a statutory periodic tenancy arising after 1 October 2015 is not deemed to be a new tenancy, but a replacement tenancy.

For tenancies commencing before 1 October 2015, landlords should continue to use the old style S21 notices. To assist landlords and ensure the right form is used a copy has been added to the MCHLG archive of How to Rent booklets and is available to help you check the right version is given. 

If the correct booklet was not given to the tenant, post 1 October 2015, then a section 21 notice cannot be served. 

N.B. The changes have no effect on the Housing Act 1988 Section 8 Notice and procedures for rent arrears.