Houses With Multiple Occupants (HMOs): Security challenges faced by landlords

Houses with multiple occupants (HMOs) are becoming increasingly popular in today’s economic climate. A combination of rising house prices and lack of new builds means that more people than ever before are sharing their living space. An HMO is defined as a house or apartment shared between at least three tenants who aren’t related – a very common state of play in student circles but now increasingly common for young working adults and older generations too.  

As a result of HMO arrangements becoming more popular, landlords are having to adapt. A house that was once rented to a family or individual, may now need to appeal to the HMO market to secure a tenancy. However, there are new safety and security concerns to consider for landlords if they’re thinking about letting their property in a ‘shared’ capacity.  Ultimately it is the landlord who is responsible for the security of property and occupants within, so what do they need to know about HMO rules?

Fire safety and security – designating a responsible person

One of the key things to note about HMOs is that once private areas like landings, kitchens and hallways are now classed as shared areas. As such, no individual tenant is automatically responsible for them and more responsibility falls on the landlord. A large part of this is fire safety. As well as being subject to the same fire safety rules as all housing (outlined in The Housing Act, 2004), HMOs need to adhere to additional legislation.  Like most public spaces (restaurants, bars, offices, shops etc.) there will need to a be a designated responsible person (RP). Usually, this is the landlord, but if the landlord lives abroad or is unable to take on the responsibility, this can be designated formally to a lead tenant.  An RP must:

  • Complete a fire risk assessment of the common areas and eliminate or reduce the risk
  • Consider escape routes and the appropriate use of preventative measures like fire proof doors
  • Ensure that a  fire detection and warning system is in place in the common area
  • Consider firefighting equipment and facilities such as extinguishers and blankets.
  • Ensure that all signage is clear and up to date if required

Being an RP is an important responsibility, which is why most landlords will take it on themselves to protect their tenants as well as the property.

Switching to an HMO – what do you need to know?

Aside from additional legislation around fire and security, what do you need to consider as a landlord before you let your property as an HMO? In order for an HMO to be legal, it needs to meet a certain set of requirements. For example, if you’re letting out bedrooms you need to ensure that a single occupant has at least 6.5 square meters of space. That goes up to 11 square meters for two beds in a room and 15  for 3 beds in a room.  For every additional bed, a further 4.5 square meters of space must be made available. This is to prevent overcrowding and meet minimum living standards. Landlords also need to ensure that satisfactory facilities are available for the cooking and preparation of food, as well as a suitable number of toilet/cleaning facilities. Fresh cold water and hot water must be available to all tenants.  The size of kitchen/bathroom, like bedrooms, will relate directly to the number of tenants. For example, an HMO with 3-5 occupants will need a kitchen that is at least 7 square meters in size, with access to 4 cooking hobs, an oven and grill.  Other rules such as the placement of kitchens and bathrooms may apply to larger HMO properties. As a general rule, the more tenants you have the more careful you need to be.

Securing an HMO

Legislation doesn’t just apply to size and placement of facilities or overcrowding. One of the primary needs of all tenants in any environment is security. If you’ve got a house that’s occupied by a family, you only really need to consider their safety as a group (securing the front and rear entrance doors as well as windows). However, if your property becomes an HMO, each tenant needs to have their own level of security. Usually, the ability to lock bedroom doors that aren’t ‘shared areas’ will be appreciated, particularly if you’re going to be letting rooms out to relative strangers. The responsibility for shared areas won’t fall to any individual tenant, so it’s important to take steps to secure these however you see fit – controlled access is paramount, and a code or remote system to grant entry to visitors is advised.  You may even consider installing CCTV or a video intercom system in shared areas to protect your property from unwanted guests or record incidents if they occur.

What Next?

Spire Security are proud to be accredited to the most stringent international standards as recognised by the SSAIB. We’re also Safecontractor approved to give our customers absolute peace of mind when it comes to the installation, monitoring and maintenance of all controlled access systems for HMOs.

For a free, no obligation security assessment to find out which level of controlled access might be best for you, contact us today on 0800 112 3551 or email us at info@spire-security.co.uk.