Most shared student houses in Cardiff are deemed as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). HMOs have additional Licensing, Safety and Amenity Standards, checked and enforced by Shared Regulatory Services (SRS). These include minimum requirements for bathroom and kitchen facilities, room size, fire protection and security.
An HMO is legally defined in sections 254 to 259 of the Housing Act 2004, as being a building, or part of a building, such as a flat, that:
- is occupied by more than one household and where the occupants share, lack, or must leave their front door to use an amenity such as a bathroom, toilet or cooking facilities;
- is occupied by more than one household in a converted building where not all the flats are self-contained. “Selfcontained” means that all amenities such as kitchen, bathroom and WC are behind the entrance door to the flat;
- is a converted block of self-contained flats, but does not meet the requirements of the Building Regulations 1991, and less than two thirds of the flats are owner occupied.
In Cardiff, the Additional Licensing Scheme has extended the meaning of HMO to cover most rental property in the Cathays and Plasnewydd areas (see Additional Licensing below).
The purpose of HMO Licensing
HMOs are legally required to be licensed, under the Housing Act 2004, which aims to improve housing standards for tenants renting in the private sector.
You can check if your house has an HMO license on the public register.
Licensing ensures that certain types of rented property meet standards to ensure a house is safe for the occupants and that the landlord is competent, qualified and the most appropriate person to manage it.
Licensing takes into consideration many aspects from property condition to property management, anti-social behaviour and security. Licence conditions cover many issues including fire safety and amenities, both of which are subject to specific standards – see related links below for further information.
In addition to licence conditions which are issued as part of any HMO licence, the Council will also look for issues relating to health and safety within HMOs, having regard to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is the government’s approach to evaluating potential risks of housing conditions on health.
29 categories of housing hazard are assessed under the system. Each hazard has a weighting which will help determine whether the property is rated as having category 1 (serious) or category 2 (other) hazards.
Local authorities have a general duty to make sure that housing conditions are maintained and that residents are not at risk due to health and safety hazards within their property.
Following an assessment of a property, appropriate action will be taken to ensure landlords address any hazards identified.
The landlord must also be a ‘fit and proper’ person to hold a Licence and the Council will take into account any criminal convictions that the landlord may have. Failure to satisfy the Council that a person is ‘fit and proper’ could result in the refusal to grant a Licence. In addition to the above, the Additional Licensing Scheme (see below) is also looking to tackle wider community issues such as waste, anti-social behaviour, energy efficiency and property security.
Properties that need a Licence
There are 2 types of Licence that relate to different HMO property types and different areas:
- Mandatory – Applicable to the whole of Cardiff
- Additional Licensing Scheme – Applicable to Cathays and Plasnewydd only
A Mandatory HMO Licence applies to houses in multiple occupation that have 3 storeys or more and 5 or more occupants who do not form a single household. Generally a household is a family (including co-habiting and same-sex couples or other relationships, such as fostering, carers and domestic staff). The definition of a family also includes parent, grandparent, child, stepchild, grandchild, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, cousin and “a relationship of the half-blood shall be treated as a relationship of the whole blood.” Each unrelated tenant sharing a property will be considered a single household.
This applies across the whole of Cardiff and can include shared houses and houses split into bedsits, or a mixture of flats and bedsits.
The following property types are classed as HMOs for Mandatory Licensing purposes provided the property has 3 storeys:
- An entire house or flat which is let to 5 or more tenants who form 2 or more households and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet.
- A house which has been converted entirely into bedsits or other non self-contained accommodation and which is let to 5 or more tenants who form two or more households and who share kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities.
- A converted house which contains one or more flats which are not entirely self contained (ie the flat does not contain within it a kitchen, bathroom and toilet) and which is occupied by 5 or more tenants who form two or more households.
- In order to be an HMO the property must be used as the only or main residence of the tenants and it should be used solely or mainly to house tenants. Properties let to students will be treated as their only or main residence.
Additional Licensing Scheme – Cathays and Plasnewydd
Cardiff Council have declared two areas within Cardiff as Additional Licensing Schemes. The Additional Licensing Scheme in Cathays first came into effect on 1 July 2010 and again on 1 January 2016 and in Plasnewydd on 3 November 2014. The Scheme extends the scope of licensing to cover most rented property with 3 or more occupiers who form 2 or more households regardless of how many storeys the property has. Each Scheme runs for a period of 5 years, at the end of which, the Council will be required to re-declare the Additional Licensing Scheme.
The consultation process on re-declaration of the additional licensing scheme in the Plasnewydd ward of Cardiff has been completed, but the report on the outcome of the consultation and re-declaration has been delayed until September 2020 because of the Coronavirus Pandemic. If the scheme is re-declared, all known landlords and agents in the area will be notified and there will be required 3 month period between declaration and commencement of the scheme.
Additional licensing applies to the Cathays area and Plasnewydd Area and can include shared houses and houses split into bedsits, or a mixture of flats and bedsits.
Additional Licensing does not apply to or affect properties that are licensable under the Mandatory Licensing Scheme above and does not include owner occupiers with up to 2 tenants living in their property.
The following property types are classed as HMOs under the Additional Licensing Scheme:
- An entire house or flat which is let to 3 or more tenants who form 2 or more households and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet.
- A house which has been converted entirely into bedsits or other non self-contained accommodation and which is let to 3 or more tenants who form two or more households and who share kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities.
- A converted house which contains one or more flats which are not entirely self contained (ie the flat does not contain within it a kitchen, bathroom and toilet) and which is occupied by 3 or more tenants who form two or more households.
- A building which is converted entirely into self-contained flats if the conversion did not meet the standards of the 1991 Building Regulations and more than one-third of the flats are let on short-term tenancies.
In order to be an HMO the property must be used as the only or main residence of the tenants and it should be used solely or mainly to house tenants. Properties let to students and migrant workers will be treated as their only or main residence.
There are a number of enforcement options available to the Council to enforce non-compliance with conditions and failure to make an application for a Licence.
Failure to submit an application
If a managing agent or landlord fails to make an application or, having submitted part of an application, then fails to provide all relevant documentation, they could face prosecution for failure to license a property. This has an unlimited maximum fine.
If prosecuted and convicted, then the landlord could face a Rent Repayment Order. This enables tenants of the unlicensed property to apply to the Residential Property Tribunal (RPT) for up to 12 months of their rent back, whilst the property was unlicensed.
Non compliance with conditions and works
The Licence will contain conditions relating to the ongoing management of the HMO and there may be conditions requiring works to meet fire safety and amenity standards. If the licence holder fails to comply with the conditions, then they could face prosecution and an unlimited fine.
When an inspection is carried out at the property, Officers will look for any hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. If any works are required they may write to the landlord, giving them an opportunity to remedy those defects or they may serve an Improvement Notice, setting out the works to be carried out and the timescales for completion. If the matter is serious, they may serve a Prohibition Order restricting the use of part or all of the premises.
If your house does not have a license
As above, you can check if your house has an HMO license on the public register.
If you live in an HMO that should have a license but does not, you can report your landlord to Shared Regulatory Services (contact details below). SRS can take enforcement action and also instruct your landord to carry out any works necessary to make the property suitable and safe.
If you are viewing a property that does not have a license when it should, we strongly advise against signing a contract with that landlord. You can also report the landlord to SRS as above.
How to contact Shared Regulatory Services
The Licensing Team in Shared Regulatory Services can help tenants to understand and implement licensing. If you have any questions or queries about the scheme, you can contact
Housing Enforcement Shared Regulatory Service Basement Office City Hall, Cardiff CF10 3ND
Contact Student Advice
+44 (0)2920 781410