Basic standards in HMOs
The Housing Act 1985 lays out specific standards and fitness standards for all HMOs. It states that all HMO properties must have;
- No serious disrepair (decorations are not taken into account).
- A stable structure.
- No damp – i.e. damp that would affect the health of the contract-holder(s) if left untreated.
- Adequate ventilation – meaning every habitable room, kitchen, bathroom or toilet should have either ventilation direct to the exterior of the property from an opening window (measuring at least one-twentieth of the overall square footage of the room), or ventilation from an extractor fan or similar.
- Adequate heating – meaning each contract-holder should have a fixed heating appliance if their main living area, and every other habitable room should have adequate and safe heating provisions.
- Adequate lighting – meaning every habitable room should have sufficient natural lighting and a glazed window to the outside. In addition, all areas of the property, including hallways, stairs and landings, must have adequate artificial lighting.
- In terms of food storage, preparation and cooking facilities;
- Suitable facilities in which to store food.
- Suitable worktops in order to prepare food for the total number of occupants.
- A sink or sinks with hot and cold running water, as well as a draining board.
- Adequate and suitable facilities for cooking food.
- Suitably located toilet(s), bath(s) or shower(s), and wash-hand basin(s) for the sole use of the occupants.
- An effective drainage system for all facilities.
- Adequate means of escape in the event of a fire and other fire precautions.
Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
Part 1, Chapter 1 of the Housing Act 2004 introduced a new system called the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) for assessing housing conditions and enforcing the above required standards.
HHSRS is a risk assessment procedure that assesses the risks to health and safety in residential properties. Like any other property, HMOs must meet the physiological requirements and protection against infection/harm standards outlined under HHSRS.
Enforcement of the system lies with local authorities, and the action they take is based on three factors;
- The hazard rating each item of concern is given under HHSRS.
- Whether the local authority has a duty or power to act, based on the hazard identified and its category.
- The course of action most appropriate to the hazard identified and its category.
Any hazards identified will relate to, or arise from, two main areas;
- Physiological requirements (living conditions), such as damp, excessive heat or cold, contamination, noise, crowding, etc.
- Protection against infection/harm, such as pests and rubbish, sanitation/drainage, water supply, electrics, fire, food safety, falls in the home, etc
By awarding each hazard a score, then totting them up to make one overall score, the property can be placed into one of ten bands between A and J.
Bands A-C indicate a category 1 hazard, meaning the local authority have a duty to act (i.e. they must take action).
Bands D-J indicate a category 2 hazard, meaning the local authority have a power to act (i.e. they can choose whether to take action or not).
In terms of the courses of action available to the local authority, they may choose to;
- Serve an improvement notice requiring works to be done.
- Make a prohibition order (this closes all or part of the building).
- Take emergency action.
- Serve a hazard awareness notice.
- Make a demolition older (but not normally for category 2 hazards).
- Declare a clearance area (but not normally for category 2 hazards).
The vulnerability of the occupant(s) will also be considered before deciding what action to take.
Notices will be served on the owner, or the owner’s agent, if they are deemed to the “person having control”. This is defined as the person who receives the rack-rent of the premises. More information on this can be found in our Management of HMOs section.