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Last revised August 13, 2019

The Housing Act 2004 defined a HMO as any house or flat which is the main occupation of three or more people who are not a single household (ie a family) sharing amenities.

A single household is formed by:

  • a family
  • an employer and certain specified domestic employees
  • a carer and the person receiving the care and
  • a foster parent and a foster child

Large Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) which are 3 floors or over and 7 residents or more require planning approval for change of use from a single dwelling house.  Customarily, 7+ occupants is usually sufficient threshold for a large HMO, regardless of the number of storeys.

The criteria for mandatory HMO licensing are 5+ occupants and 3+ storeys.

Local authorities currently have to apply to the government for additional licensing of other HMOs in designated areas.


Bristol guidance on Licensed HMOs

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Licensing

A mandatory licensable HMO is a house with three or more storeys, and with five or more people living there, in two or more households. In some cases a maisonette in a house or above commercial premises may need a licence if similarly occupied. It is an offence to operate a licensable HMO without a licence, and there can be heavy penalties on conviction. The licence makes sure that the property is safe and meets basic occupancy standards, for example, has enough bathrooms.

Bristol has also brought in a requirement for smaller HMOs to be licenced from 8 July 2019. this covers HMOs with 3-6 unrelated occupants in central wards of the city.

Selective licences are also required for specified properties in St George and Eastville wards.

Find out about HMO licensing

A guide to the licensing and management provisions in Parts 2, 3 and 4 of the Housing Act 2004

Use Classes Order 2010.

Statutory Instrument 2010 No. 653 The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Order 2010 was made on 8 March:

first of all, Class C3 adopted the definition in the Housing Act 2004 of ‘single household’ (a couple and/or immediate relatives);

secondly, a new Class C4 HMOs was introduced;

and finally, this Class adopted the definition in the Housing Act of ‘HMO’ (three or more unrelated people sharing a dwelling).

The new Order came into force on 6 April 2010. Any change of use to HMO required planning permission.

However, on 1 October, the new government made change of use to HMO permitted development, with Statutory Instrument 2010 No. 2134 The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (no 2) (England) Order 2010(This permitted development right may be withdrawn by means of an Article 4 Direction.)

This Act came into force on 6 April 2010.

Article 4 Directions:

to remove permitted development rights for change of use from C3 to C4.

Bristol City Council is one of the councils who decided to bring in Article 4 directions to remove the change of use to a HMO as permitted development in some wards in the city.

For information on Bristol’s Article 4 Direction for Clifton East, Cotham, Cabot, Ashley and Lawrence Hill see the Officer Delegated report September 2011 – came into effect 11 December 2011

Redland and Clifton Article 4 see Officer Delegated Report to Committee September 2012 – came into effect 21 October 2012.

An additional Article 4 is currently being consulted on, to be brought in other areas including Avonmouth to be in force in July 2020.

Further information:

For further information on HMOs see the HMO lobby website