Stephanie Robinson answers your rental questions

Stephanie Robinson (Rob Cooke's replacement as Rented page legal columnist)
Stephanie Robinson (Rob Cooke's replacement as Rented page legal columnist)

Owning and renting houses with multiple tenants is fraught with rules and regulations. This month, Stephanie Robinson outlines the basics for landlords considering a move into this complex area of property law...

I want to buy a property in Sheffield to be used by my son whilst he is at university. The spare bedrooms and dining room are to be let to three friends who will pay rent to us. They will live as one household, sharing meals, bills and chores and will probably go home during the holidays and for occasional weekends. I understand this may still be classed as a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) – are there legal issues we should consider?

This is a complex area of law and there are really two aspects to this question – your licensing and planning obligations.

Landlords must satisfy both of these requirements, which are independent of each other. Even if there is no need to comply with the licensing regulations, you may still require planning permission and vice versa.

For licensing purposes, a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) is either a house, flat or converted building that is let to three or more tenants who form two or more households and share facilities such as a kitchen, bathroom or toilet. The term also encompasses a building split into self-contained units where the conversion does not meet the standards set out in the Building Regulations 1991 or less than two-thirds of the flats are owner-occupied.

Existing legislation does not define what constitutes ‘multiple occupation.’ Instead, it outlines the relationships that class as a ‘single household.’ Therefore, unless your tenants’ living arrangements represent one of these single households, the property will be regarded as an HMO. In the eyes of the law, this includes a single person, a family, an employer and certain specified domestic staff, a carer and the person receiving care, or a foster parent and child.

Unfortunately, four single, unrelated adults who do not meet any of the definitions listed above would be seen as four separate households and as they will be sharing a kitchen and bathroom, the property you are proposing to buy will be regarded as an HMO for licensing purposes.

It does not matter that the students will live with parents during university vacations.

That said, simply owning an HMO does not necessarily mean there are licensing requirements to satisfy. Only HMOs that are three or more storeys and are occupied by five or more people, who do not form a single household, must by law have a licence. Basements and attics/lofts will not usually constitute a separate storey, unless they are used wholly or partly as living accommodation.

It is, however, worth checking with the local authority to ensure there are no areas it has deemed subject to additional licensing, as it is a criminal offence to manage or have control of a property that requires a license if you do not have the appropriate paperwork.

From the facts you have given, it is unlikely that the property you are buying will be subject to mandatory licensing, but do give this some careful thought if it has three storeys and there is any possibility that an extra person may move in.

When considering your planning obligations, you must determine whether a family lives there. A ‘family’ is deemed to be either a single person, couples who are married, living as husband and wife or in a same sex relationship, or relatives living together.

A house that is no longer occupied by a family, but is still used as a residential dwelling would require change of use planning permission, were it not for the fact that in the majority of cases, it will be classed as ‘permitted development.’ The exception is when an Article 4 Direction is in force, which means permitted development rights have been withdrawn.

If your property is in an area where this legislation change applies and it will be occupied by three to six unrelated individuals as their main dwelling, you will need to apply for planning permission to change the usage to an HMO.

lStephanie Robinson is a solicitor specialising in property and commercial litigation at Sheffield’s Taylor&Emmet LLP. Telephone 0114 218 4000 or visit www.tayloremmet.co.uk and www.landlorddisputes.co.uk

I want to buy a property in Sheffield to be used by my son whilst he is at university. The spare bedrooms and dining room are to be let to three friends who will pay rent to us. They will live as one household, sharing meals, bills and chores and will probably go home during the holidays and for occasional weekends. I understand this may still be classed as a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) – are there legal issues we should consider?

This is a complex area of law and there are really two aspects to this question – your licensing and planning obligations.

Landlords must satisfy both of these requirements, which are independent of each other. Even if there is no need to comply with the licensing regulations, you may still require planning permission and vice versa.

For licensing purposes, a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) is either a house, flat or converted building that is let to three or more tenants who form two or more households and share facilities such as a kitchen, bathroom or toilet. The term also encompasses a building split into self-contained units where the conversion does not meet the standards set out in the Building Regulations 1991 or less than two-thirds of the flats are owner-occupied.

Existing legislation does not define what constitutes ‘multiple occupation.’ Instead, it outlines the relationships that class as a ‘single household.’ Therefore, unless your tenants’ living arrangements represent one of these single households, the property will be regarded as an HMO. In the eyes of the law, this includes a single person, a family, an employer and certain specified domestic staff, a carer and the person receiving care, or a foster parent and child.

Unfortunately, four single, unrelated adults who do not meet any of the definitions listed above would be seen as four separate households and as they will be sharing a kitchen and bathroom, the property you are proposing to buy will be regarded as an HMO for licensing purposes.

It does not matter that the students will live with parents during university vacations.

That said, simply owning an HMO does not necessarily mean there are licensing requirements to satisfy. Only HMOs that are three or more storeys and are occupied by five or more people, who do not form a single household, must by law have a licence. Basements and attics/lofts will not usually constitute a separate storey, unless they are used wholly or partly as living accommodation.

It is, however, worth checking with the local authority to ensure there are no areas it has deemed subject to additional licensing, as it is a criminal offence to manage or have control of a property that requires a license if you do not have the appropriate paperwork.

From the facts you have given, it is unlikely that the property you are buying will be subject to mandatory licensing, but do give this some careful thought if it has three storeys and there is any possibility that an extra person may move in.

When considering your planning obligations, you must determine whether a family lives there. A ‘family’ is deemed to be either a single person, couples who are married, living as husband and wife or in a same sex relationship, or relatives living together.

A house that is no longer occupied by a family, but is still used as a residential dwelling would require change of use planning permission, were it not for the fact that in the majority of cases, it will be classed as ‘permitted development.’ The exception is when an Article 4 Direction is in force, which means permitted development rights have been withdrawn.

If your property is in an area where this legislation change applies and it will be occupied by three to six unrelated individuals as their main dwelling, you will need to apply for planning permission to change the usage to an HMO.

lStephanie Robinson is a solicitor specialising in property and commercial litigation at Sheffield’s Taylor&Emmet LLP. Telephone 0114 218 4000 or visit www.tayloremmet.co.uk and www.landlorddisputes.co.uk