If a home is a house in multiple occupation (HMO) it will need to meet standards set by the licensing local authority. The property is an HMO within the meaning of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 if it is:
- occupied by three or more persons from three or more families; and
- occupied by them as their only or main residence or in some other manner specified by the Scottish Ministers by order; and
- either a house, premises or a group of premises owned by the same person with shared basic amenities, or some other type of accommodation specified by the Scottish Ministers by order.
The legislation covers houses, flats and bedsits, and types of residential accommodation such as hostels and student halls of residence. Separate accommodation within a building which shares the use of a toilet, personal washing facilities or cooking facilities is taken to form part of a single HMO.
The owner of an HMO is required by law to have a licence from the local authority where the property is situated. The accommodation must be licensed regardless of the type of owner e.g. private individual; Registered Social Landlord.
The purpose of HMO licensing is to ensure that accommodation is safe, well managed and of good quality. Before granting a licence the local authority must be satisfied that the owner and any manager of the property is fit and proper to hold a licence; that the property meets required physical standards and that it is suitable for use as an HMO or could be made so by including conditions in the licence.
The local authority sets the standards required and also sets the fees charged for a licence application. Scottish Ministers have issued guidance to local authorities on the licensing of HMOs (PDF version).
It is a criminal offence to operate an HMO without a licence – the maximum fine is currently £50,000. Local authorities have a range of other enforcement options available to them, including the powers to vary the terms of a licence or revoke a licence at any time. An HMO licence can also be revoked at any time if the owner or agent, or the living accommodation is no longer suitable.