Houses in Multiple Occupation
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 (link opens in new window) came in to operation and local councils across NI took over responsibility for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) from the NI Housing Executive.
The purpose of the Act is to allow better regulation of houses in multiple occupation (HMO) by introducing a system of licensing and new provisions about standards of housing. It also aims to streamline the definition and clarify the law.
All HMOs must be licensed by their local council unless a temporary exemption notice is in effect.
Our NI HMO unit administers the regulation of HMOs on behalf of each of the 11 Northern Ireland councils.
Application form improvements
We have made improvements to our online application form for House in Multiple Occupation licencing. This includes additional functions such as applications for:
You can access these on the NIHMO website (links opens in a new window).
Watch our step-by-step video tutorials to help you with the new application form. You will also find detailed guidance within each form on the NIHMO website.
When completing your application, you can now provide feedback, which we will use to improve future developments.
Guide to HMOs
We have produced a detailed guide to HMOs.
Read the guide
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
- rented by at least one of the people living in the accommodation
Read more detail about HMOs.
HMO Licensing Scheme
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 (unless a temporary exemption notice is in effect).
Read more about the licensing scheme.
Code of Practice
The Department for Communities has prepared a code of practice for the management of houses in multiple occupation.
View the code of practice.
View HMO Licence Register and open applications
Applying for a HMO Licence
Landlords must have a valid licence for each HMO they own.
You can apply and pay for your licence online (link opens in new window).
You should complete the application and include 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 NI HMO Unit.
We will only begin processing an application after we receive the completed application and payment.
Your application is only complete once we receive all the associated documentation. From that point, the council will endeavour to make a decision within three months.
You can watch our step-by-step video tutorials to help you with the application form.
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. A HMO licence lasts for five years, therefore a five-year licence costs £185 per person.
This means a five-year licence for a property to hold three tenants would cost £555, four 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 a 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
All HMO licences have a number of conditions attached. These include:
- the management of the physical property
- respect of occupants’ rights
- antisocial behaviour (HMOs situated within the boundary of Belfast City Council must have an emergency out-of-hours contact number for the owner or manager as part of the antisocial behaviour procedure), and
- neighbourhood concerns.
The local council granting the licence may include extra conditions that are appropriate to regulate the management, use and occupation of the HMO, its condition and contents.
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.
Landlords guide to 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.
View the guide for tackling antisocial behaviour
The guide provides preventative measures that landlords can take to manage antisocial behaviour, highlights how to demonstrate compliance by record keeping and intervention, and details 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.
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 a HMO. The NI HMO Unit is responsible for making sure 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.
All new HMOs must have planning permission and building control approval. An application will not be processed if the property does not have these approvals.
Anyone considering developing an HMO or converting an existing property into a HMO must apply for planning permission.
Learn more about planning permission for HMOs.
Each local council can refuse an application for a new HMO licence if there is overprovision of HMOs in the locality. The council will decide how much HMO accommodation is needed for a particular area.
Read about overprovision.
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 Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Northern Ireland 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.
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 overprovision of HMOs in the locality
- 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.
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 Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (link opens in new window), they can:
- vary the terms of a licence
- issue fixed penalty notices
- 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 and if the property is unsafe for occupation.
Applying for a temporary exemption notice
Section 15 of the HMO Act (NI) 2016 allows the council to issue a temporary exemption notice following an application from the HMO owner.
A temporary exemption notice applies where the owner of an unlicensed HMO makes an application to the council explaining what steps will be taken to stop the premises from being a HMO (such as making sure the number of occupants reduces below three, or that sufficient basic amenities for exclusive use are installed so that occupants do not have to share them). The council must be satisfied that these steps will be successful.
Apply for a temporary exemption notice (link opens in a new window)
Removing, adding or substituting the managing agent of the HMO
Section 22 of the HMO Act (NI) 2016 allows the licence holder or the existing managing agent to apply to remove, add or substitute the managing agent of the HMO.
Apply to remove, add or substitute the managing agent (link opens in a new window)
Vary the number of people who are authorised to occupy the HMO
Section 22 of the HMO Act (NI) 2016 allows the licence holder or the existing managing agent to apply to vary the number of people who are allowed by the licence to live in the HMO.
Apply to vary the permitted occupancy (link opens in a new window)
There is a charge of £185 per person to add each additional occupant after the initial application. An additional fee of £75 will be charged if an inspection is required.
If the application to increase the permitted occupancy is refused, the fee cannot be refunded.
Landlord Registration Scheme
By law, all private landlords in Northern Ireland must register with the Landlord Registration Scheme. The Landlord Registration Scheme collects and maintains accurate information on landlords and their properties. Visit nidirect (link opens in new window) for more information and to register.
A landlord is exempt from the registration fee if they registered a house in multiple occupation (HMO) under the House in Multiple Occupation Registration Scheme.
To make sure you aren't charged the landlord registration fee, you must include the HMO and the HMO number when registering other properties you rent to tenants.
You can find your HMO number on the HMO Licence Register (link opens in new window).
Tenants’ rights and responsibilities
If you live in a HMO, you can check if the property you live in is licensed 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.
Check if the property you live in is licensed (link opens in new window). Please click on the ‘Licence Register’ tab.
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 is responsible for keeping in good repair.
You can report a HMO or landlord to email@example.com if you believe a property is not licensed or you suspect they may not comply with the legislation.
Reporting antisocial behaviour
You can report incidents of antisocial behaviour inside a HMO property or within the garden or yard area of a HMO by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about antisocial behaviour.