On Monday 1 April 2019, licensing laws for shared flats and houses changed.
On this date the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 came in to operation and local councils across NI took over responsibility for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) from the NI Housing Executive.
What is a HMO?
A House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) is a property which is:
- living accommodation
- the main residence of three or more people who are from more than two households and
- rented by at least one of the people living in the accommodation.
All HMO owners must comply with the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 and must have a licence from their local council to continue running it as a HMO.
Up to now HMOs were registered with NI Housing Executive; if your property was on the NI Housing Executive Register it will automatically transfer to the new licensing scheme and we will notify you when your licence is due for renewal. This will be five years from your last registration.
You can apply by post or in person at your local council office. You must provide all the relevant documentation and the appropriate fee.
You can check if your property is licensed (Excel - 279KB) and when it is due for renewal.
When a landlord receives a HMO licence it will include some standard conditions that the landlord must meet.
All HMO landlords must make sure that the accommodation they provide is safe, of good quality, and has suitable facilities for the number of occupants by making sure that:
- all safety and maintenance certificates are valid and kept up to date
- electrics and electrical appliances are safe, maintained and in proper working order at all times
- stairways and escape routes are maintained free from obstructions
- carbon monoxide alarm is installed
- chimneys and flues cleaned annually
- inspection records and tests are maintained
- furniture is kept in a safe condition and proper working order
- security arrangements are in place
- heating is provided throughout living accommodation
- the property has an Energy Performance Certificate with a minimum E rating for energy efficiency.
HMO landlords must also give tenants an information pack (in alternative languages or formats if appropriate) which includes:
- a copy of the HMO licence
- copies of the current gas certificate, electrical safety report and energy performance certificates
- advice on reporting anti-social behaviour
- list of tenant duties and responsibilities
- contact telephone numbers, including an emergency out of hours contact number
- emergency information (this must also be display emergency information clearly and prominently in the accommodation).
If you live in a HMO, you will be able to check that the property is licensed
(Excel - 279KB) as a HMO and that it complies with the legislation. It should be safe, good quality, and have suitable facilities for the number of people living there. Your landlord should also give you an information pack.
Tenants also have responsibilities to make sure the landlord can carry out their duties; tenants must:
- allow the landlord or manager access, at all reasonable times, to any occupied room
- provide them with any relevant information
- comply with fire safety and litter storage and disposal arrangements in the property
- not hinder the landlord or manager in performing their duties
- take reasonable care to avoid damaging anything which the landlord has an obligation to keep in good repair.
Once the legislation becomes law you will be able to report a HMO or landlord if you believe a property is not licensed or you suspect they may not comply with the legislation.
Landlords must have a valid licence for each HMO they own.
- You can apply and pay for your licence online
You should complete the application and submit it along with the appropriate fee and any relevant documentation.
Within seven days of submitting the application, the applicant must publish information of the application in one or more newspapers, circulating in the locality of the HMO and provide a copy to the NIHMO Unit. We will only begin processing an application after we receive the completed application and payment.
Your application is only deemed completed once we have received all the associated documentation, from that point the council will make a decision within three months.
You can also apply by post or in person at your local council office (ask for a Housing Officer) using the NI Houses in Multiple Occupation application form (PDF - 432KB).
If applying by post you must make cheques and postal orders out to ‘NI HMO Unit’ and if you need a receipt, you must include a stamped, self-addressed envelope. If you choose to send documentation by post, we strongly advise you to send it by registered post, and you should keep proof of posting. Send postal applications to:
The NI HMO Unit,
Belfast City Council,
4-10 Linenhall Street,
The HMO licence application cost depends on the number of people living in the property; this is £37 per person living in the property per year.
You can apply for a licence for up to 5 years, so a 5 year licence costs £185 per person.
This means a 5 year licence for a property to hold 3 tenants would cost £555, 4 tenants would cost £740 and five tenants would cost £925. There is no maximum fee.
There is also a charge to vary the licence or to add more occupants after the initial application.
||Per person, per year
||Add a new owner or managing agent
|Add a new occupant
||£185 for each new occupant
+ £75 inspection fee (per visit)
|Maximum fee for copy of HMO register
||A certified copy of an entry relating to an HMO to any person who falls within section 62(9) of the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.
|A certified copy of its register, or of an extract from it, to any statutory authority.
After the NI HMO Unit receives a complete application they will carry out inspections to assess whether the living accommodation is suitable for occupation as an HMO and if the applicant is a fit and proper person and submit a report to councillors to consider.
Each local council decides on the licence applications for their own electoral area. They will consider the recommendations from the NI HMO Unit and any objections received and they may grant the licence, grant with conditions or refuse it on a number of grounds including planning or overprovision.
All objections to HMO Licence Applications must be submitted in writing to:
The NI HMO Unit,
Belfast City Council,
The Cecil Ward Building,
4-10 Linenhall Street,
All HMO licences have a number of conditions attached. These include the management of the physical property, respect of occupant’s rights, antisocial behaviour and neighbourhood concerns.
Extra conditions that are appropriate for the regulation of the management, use and occupation of the HMO and its condition and contents may be included by the local council granting the licence.
If anyone is concerned that the conditions of a licence are not being met (anywhere in Northern Ireland) they can contact the NI HMO Unit.
By law, landlords must have an antisocial behaviour plan to manage and deal with antisocial behaviour arising from their property. They must also keep a record of any instances of antisocial behaviour and any interventions or actions taken to deal with the issue.
Tackling antisocial behaviour
Responsible HMO landlords want to be good neighbours, take the behaviour of their tenants seriously and work to resolve any alleged antisocial behaviour linked to their properties.
Councils will provide a supporting role to resolve such issues. The NI HMO Unit has developed a guide highlighting ways to tackle antisocial behaviour linked to their properties.
The guide will provide preventative measures that can be taken to manage antisocial behaviour, highlight how to demonstrate compliance by record keeping and intervention, and detail how to develop an antisocial behaviour plan.
The HMO legislation in Northern Ireland has the potential to have a positive impact on the lives of those living in HMOs, the owners of HMOs, and the residents surrounding HMO properties.
Overcrowding in HMOs
When granting a licence, the local council may specify the number of people allowed to live in the property; they will base this on the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and facilities and the intended use of the property, for example if it is intended for older people.
The landlord must make sure the number of occupants specified on the licence is complied with.
General HMO Management
Under the NI Houses in Multiple Occupation Act, landlords or agents must have good management policies and procedures in place to make sure physical standards are maintained, occupiers' rights are respected, and any problems which arise during the period of the licence are effectively addressed.
They must also be able to manage issues which may concern neighbours effectively (such as building maintenance, cleaning, noise or disturbance and suitability of the applicant or agent).
Councils consider a landlord’s potential to manage these issues (or past performance) when deciding whether to grant a licence.
Councils may include additional conditions appropriate for regulating the management, use and occupation of an HMO. The NI HMO Unit is responsible for ensuring these conditions are met throughout the lifetime of the licence and may recommend the introduction of additional conditions, variation or revocation of licence depending on a landlord’s performance.
Your council can refuse a HMO licence application for a number of reasons, including if:
- the property would breach planning control if being rented as a HMO
- granting the licence would result in or contribute to over provision of HMOs in the area
- general HMO management arrangements are not satisfactory
- the property is not fit for occupation as a HMO or
- the owner, and any managing agents, are not fit and proper persons.
All new HMOs must have planning permission and building control approval. An application will not be processed if the property does not have either of these approvals.
Anyone considering developing a HMO or converting an existing property into a HMO must apply for planning permission to do so.
Each local council can refuse an application if there is overprovision of HMOs in the locality. The Council will decide how much HMO accommodation is needed for a particular area.
Fit and proper person test
Before issuing a HMO licence, the council must establish if the landlord or agent is a suitable person to let privately rented property.
When completing the application, the landlord or agent must declare and produce evidence of any criminal record (if one exists). The NI HMO Unit will then consider whether the applicant has any relevant convictions (motoring offences would not normally be relevant, but a conviction for fraud or theft could be since the operator would be in a position of trust). They will also review previous engagement with regulatory services either within local councils or other statutory agencies such as PSNI and NI Fire and Rescue Service.
If the applicant or agent is an organisation or business, these tests apply to any director, partner or other person involved in the management of the company, trust or organisation.
An application will be refused if the applicant or their agent is not considered a fit and proper person.
The NI HMO Unit can take enforcement action on behalf of all NI local councils and have rights to enter a HMO to access the condition of the property; where a landlord or agent fails to comply with the Houses in Multiple Occupation (Northern Ireland) 2016, they can:
- vary the terms of a licence
- issue fixed penalty notices (maximum penalty £20,000)
- prosecute and
- revoke the licence.
All enforcement action depends on the circumstances of each individual HMO, in particular if anyone is living in the property if the property is unsafe for occupation.
If you have been served with an enforcement notice you can request the NI HMO Unit to give the reasons for the decision, within 28 days of the notice date. You must request this in writing to the NI HMO Unit.