HMOs - Houses in Multiple Occupation

Please let us know if there are any inaccuracies on this page, it is a draft)

Really simply: Shared houses likely need planning permission or need to have been shared continually for a long time. They also need to have a license. If they don't have both or if they aren't protecting neighbours there are things you can do.

The basics

HMO - A House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) is a dwelling shared by three or more unrelated people. (More info: https://www.bristol.gov.uk/licences-permits/types-of-licence)

HMOs require planning permission and a license to operate in High Kingsdown, this protects the tenants, neighbours and community.

In High Kingsdown (we believe) there is a harmful concentration of HMOs, according to Bristol City Council's adopted supplementary planning document. In the main estate (all houses and King's House) the concentration of HMOs is c. 59%.

"situations where harmful HMO concentrations are likely to arise. These include the sandwiching of residential properties by HMOs and areas where more than 10% of dwellings are occupied as HMOs."


Planning

Bristol City Council uses the Planning Online for planning applications, appeals and enforcement monitoring (current and historic). It’s fairly easy to use, but here is how to get started looking at a specific property, viewing applications or enforcements, using the map, tracking an application, and tracking an area.

Specific property search

Use this to look at a specific address’ history and current applications, appeals or enforcements.

  1. Go to https://pa.bristol.gov.uk/online-applications/

  2. Click “Property” towards the bottom of the page

  3. Complete the form and press search (use the property number and street name / if you were just to put “High Kingsdown” as the street name, you would get a list, you then click on the property)

  4. Click “Property History” to see applications, appeals and enforcements associated with the property - click on them to see details

Viewing applications or enforcements

Use this to view a specific application or enforcement that is in progress.

  1. Go to https://pa.bristol.gov.uk/online-applications/

  2. Under the tab called “Simple” (default selected) select if you want to see applications, appeals or enforcements, then type a part of the address (such as “High Kingsdown”), click “Search”

  3. A list will show, click the application/enforcement to view

  4. Click “Track” at the top to receive updates (you might have to sign up for an account / login)

Using the map

  1. Go to https://pa.bristol.gov.uk/online-applications/

  2. Click “Map”

  3. Pan and zoom to the area you want to view (pan with the mouse, double click to zoom or use the zoom control top left of the map window)

  4. Use the “Legend and filter” to view different layers (use last 2 years, using 1 layer at a time works best)

  5. You can use the tools bottom right to get updates on the map of applications, appeals or enforcements (you might have to sign up for an account / login)

Reporting planning breaches

If you suspect a breach of planning by a property you can report it by:

  1. Checking any planning permission for that property using the planning portal

  2. Gathering evidence that it is (i) being used as a HMO now and (ii) not been continuously used as a HMO for the last ten years will give you confidence in the report and may speed up the process. It may also help to show any harm the breach is causing. The burden of proof is on the owner of the property (we believe). Examples of evidence might include:

    1. HMO license (indication that it is likely being used as a HMO)

    2. Recent letting/rental particulars and historic for sale particulars (rightmove, themovemarket.com and google are useful)

    3. Notes that you or others have

  3. Completing a form with set questions and space to upload supporting documents.


You should get an email from the planning team acknowledging receipt of the report with a reference number. You can let us know of any reports you make using this link so it can be tracked centrally.

Planning enforcement

As we understand, if a report is made then the process is as follows:

  • The report is registered (you receive a reference number)

  • An initial inquiry will be made to see if there is a breach

  • An officer is assigned to resolve the breach

  • Should action not be taken, it is possible to write a formal complaint and then report to the ombudsman


Through conversation with the planning team, it appears that in instances reported (in High Kingsdown) the two options for properties to resolve the breach is with a Lawful Development Certificate or planning permission.


A Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) is issued when there is evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” of ten years of continuous use as a HMO (C4). Should there be insufficient evidence, planning permission is required. No LDCs appear to have been issued in High Kingsdown and one has been withdrawn by the applicant on advice of planning, they then sought planning permission.

If planning permission would be applied for in High Kingsdown it is unlikely to be granted due to 10% being exceeded by the Kings House permissions already being granted.

Licensing

A House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) is simply a dwelling shared by three or more unrelated people. As High Kingsdown is in a Central Bristol licensing area, a HMO license is required.


There is no requirement to hold planning permission in order to have a license - There are conditions on a property being issued with a HMO license: the landlord and property must meet a criteria, a fee must be paid and guidance must be agreed to. Most are related to protection for the tenants, however some do protect neighbours.


Licensed properties are placed on a register (excel) and on pinpoint (map, under “housing and property” select the filters) once the licence is issued, but there is sometimes a delay getting these shown.


As of 2021-06-12 there are a total of 90 HMO licenses in High Kingsdown and Kings House (55 houses, 24 flats, 11 flats in Kings House). This represents 352 HMO occupants permitted, however it is likely that there are other properties not licensed or exceeding their occupancy (some shown on the map). There is also other short-term accommodation in the area with fewer than three sharers (Holly Court, is 45 studio flats).


If you suspect a HMO without a license you can report it, fines issued can be large.

Protecting neighbours

The holder of a HMO license must comply with the the Code of Good Management Practice, which includes two clauses relevant to communities:

4. Repairs and maintenance

The Licence holder must carry out repairs within a time period appropriate to the severity of the problem, keeping as far as is reasonably practicable to the following timescales:

• Emergency repairs: 24 hours (Affecting health or safety e.g. dangerous electrical fault, blocked WC, no hot water, etc.)

• Urgent repairs: 5 working days (Affecting material comfort e.g. no heating or fridge failure, serious roof leak, etc.)

• Other non-urgent repairs: 20 working days.

and

8. Neighbours

The Licence holder must take reasonable steps to minimise any nuisance, alarm, harassment or distress that may be caused to neighbours by the way the property is used. The licence holder will provide occupiers of the immediately neighbouring properties a contact telephone number, address or e-mail address to report any problems and will ensure that “To Let” or “Let” boards are not left up as long-term advertising features (over 28 days); and to keep the external appearance of the property in a condition taking into account its age of the property, character and locality.


Applicability

Our interpretation of “nuisance”, “alarm”, “harassment”, “distress” or “problems” relating to the way a property is used includes:

  • Tenants not knowing how to manage waste

  • Tenants or cleaners fly-tipping (at the end of tenancy or otherwise)

  • Noise from parties or gatherings

We would also interpret “reasonable steps” as being:

  • Proactively addressing these potential issues with tenants by making them aware of expectations and historic issues

  • Ensuring that the property has the required bins/boxes and they are numbered

  • Responding and acting promptly to problems and having means to address them


There are also requirements on keeping appearances of properties reasonable and enacting repairs and sharing contact details with neighbours.

We believe if a landlord is not protecting you as a neighbour you can report them as a Rogue Landlord.

Tenants “may be able to claim back up to 12 months’ rent” from rogue landlords - for instance lack of repairs or lack of license.