Houses in multiple occupation (HMO)

What are Houses in Multiple Occupations (HMO)

A house or a flat which is occupied by three of more unrelated persons, who do not form a single household – this definition is supported by Sections 254, 257 and 258 of the Housing Act 2004.

HMO will also share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. It’s sometimes called a ‘house share’.

An HMO could be a:

  • house split into separate bedsits
  • shared house or flat, where the sharers are not members of the same family
  • hostel
  • bed-and-breakfast hotel that is not just for holidays
  • shared accommodation for students – although many halls of residence and other types of student accommodation owned by educational establishments are not classed as HMOs.

HMO licensing criteria

You must have a licence if you’re renting out a large HMO. Your property is defined as a large HMO if all of the following apply:

  • is at least 3 storeys high or more
  • has 5 or more unrelated people live in it
  • has 2 or more separate households living there.


A ‘household’ is either a single person or members of the same family who are living together. This includes people who are married or living together as married (including those in same-sex relationships). It also includes specific relatives who are living together: parents, grandparents, children (and step-children), grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces or cousins. Foster children are also treated as part of their parents’ household.

When counting number of storeys should include basements and attics (even if the lower storeys are used for industrial / commercial use i.e. a shop).


HMOs don't need to be licensed if they are managed or owned by a housing association or co-operative, a council, a health service or a police or fire authority.

Penalty for failure to licence

It is an offence for the landlord or person in control of the property:

  • to fail to apply for a licence for a licensable property or
  • to allow a property to be occupied by more people than are permitted under the licence.

A landlord or person acting on his behalf operating an unlicensed HMO faces an unlimited fine and a criminal record.

A landlord or person acting on his behalf who breaks any of the licence conditions faces fines of up to £5,000.

Rent repayment order

If you live in a HMO that should be licensed but isn't, your landlord can be fined and ordered to repay up to 12 months' rent (or housing benefit to the council).

Eviction and HMO

Many people living in HMOs have an assured shorthold tenancy. If you're an assured shorthold tenant and the HMO should be licensed but isn't, any section 21 notice (two months' notice to leave) your landlord gives you is not valid.

Licence conditions 

Certain mandatory conditions apply to all licenses. The licence will specify the maximum number of people who may live in the HMO. It will also include the following conditions, which apply to every licence:

  • a valid current gas safety certificate, which is renewed annually, must be provided
  • proof that all the electrical appliances and furniture are kept in a safe condition
  • proof that the fire detection and smoke alarm system is installed and functioning correctly
  • each occupier must have a written statement of the terms on which they occupy the property, i.e. a tenancy agreement
  • Overall management and conditions of the property

Other discretionary conditions will also be applied.

How long will a licence be valid?

The licence is valid for 3 years in Tower Hamlets assuming no significant changes to the property or the ownership in that time. If changes do occur within the licence period, the licence holder must inform the council.


If your licence is due for renewal, and your property is still a HMO, you must reapply online. The re-licence fee is £525 and plus £35 per habitable room.

£525 per application plus £35 per habitable room including any separate living room space for 3 years. View our fees or find out if your property is exempted.

The cost of licensing an HMO is based on its size and the work required to process the application. A basic licence fee of £525 and £35 per habitable room let or available for letting is payable in respect of all licensable HMOs. A “habitable room” includes all bedrooms and living rooms. (In effect, all rooms other than bathrooms, W.Cs, kitchens or rooms too small to be considered for sleeping purposes).

The correct fee must accompany the application.

Please note that there is no provision for return of fee should the licence is refused or revoked. 

How to apply 

Apply for a selective or mandatory Landlord Licence or temporary exemption


Need help completing the application? Read the guidance.

Please note: the application form is not optimised for mobile devices or tablets.

Public register

The Housing Act 2004 requires the council to hold a public register of licensed HMOs in the borough.

For further information on HMO licensing or to apply for a licence you can contact the Health and Housing Team at

Useful guidance/documents