Why don’t OpenRent require proof of HMO licence?

OpenRent requires landlords to confirm that they have gas safety, EPC and EICR certificates, which are all legal requirements. But they don’t ask if a property which is advertised for a number of tenants that would make it an HMO, actually has an HMO licence.

Here in London I’m seeing 2-bed flats, ideal for a couple or two friends, being advertised as suitable for three or even four tenants. And at grossly inflated prices! This is in a borough with an additional licensing scheme so it would be a criminal offence for the property to be let without being approved as an HMO.

Will OpenRent stop turning a blind eye to this?

I’m not sure if you are aware, and these rules do depend on which council the property sits in, but if all 4 tenants make up a single family, then this wouldn’t be a HMO.

I’m not sure how you can claim that. We make licencing requirements very clear to landlords within Rent Now - to ensure they are legally compliant and nothing comes as a surprise! This is part of the Rent Now service.

All landlords must also confirm they are compliant:

2.1.3 If you are required to possess a license to rent property in a particular region and/or to let or manage particular types of property (such as Houses in Multiple Occupation), that you will comply with all such licensing requirements at all times when advertising with OpenRent.

Looking more closely at just the advertising stage itself, we allow landlords to specify a maximum number of tenants, however, with each council setting different rules on what property does / does not require a licence, putting in place a simple & nationwide solution that:

a) Allows us to determine if your advert requires a licence, and to confirm that a licence is in place (or being obtained)
b) Allows us to explain the licence conditions in a clear way to tenants applying

As you can appreciate isn’t exactly trivial, or even possible. We’ve written about this very recently here (which we also sent to all landlords subscribed to our newsletter):

But without government support on this, sadly the onus is on landlords to be clear about any restrictions that apply to your specific property when it comes to licencing conditions. They can do this as part of the property description.

If you believe there are landlords out there flouting licencing conditions, then I believe there are mechanisms for you to report that and the councils have powers to take action - but I don’t think it’s as easy as you make out. Maybe it would help flag the complexities of the current system to councils though so they can re-think the current implementation.

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Thank you for your detailed reply, Daz. I confess I hadn’t seen any of that.

My experience is just that I have reported adverts that look like they are intending to evade HMO regulations and I just get the form response “We have reported your concerns to the landlord”. Case closed.

The advertising landlord hasn’t actually let the property at this point so I couldn’t report it to the local council’s HMO department. They don’t yet investigate crimes before they’ve been committed.

However the adverts DO look very dodgy because they are in a borough with additional licensing and a high population of students and young professionals. It seems unlikely that they are aiming the properties at some hard to imagine family combination (a couple and one set of parents?) that would be looking to rent a flat with two double bedrooms. More likely they are trying to fleece two unrelated couples, or a couple plus their friend.

The advertised rents are extremely high (even for the local market) because they will be calculating the rent based on the number of occupants (four). But without an HMO license it would be illegal for them to proceed with that number of tenants.

I accept there is local variation and additional licensing hasn’t been introduced everywhere. However it surely wouldn’t be an insurmountable task for OpenRent to encode something based on postcodes that requires landlords in areas that do have it, to clearly state on any advert that they have an HMO license. Or alternatively that the property can only be rented by one family.

Whether making an HMO license mandatory for 3- and 4- bed properties is a good idea, is a whole other question. It does seem a massive and unnecessary burden on landlords providing properties for the traditional flatshare / house share rented by young people in towns and cities across the country. And it’s just the rogues who will ignore any regulation and hike up the rents that continue to advertise - on OpenRent and elsewhere.

@AB2023 Four tenants sharing doesn’t necessarily make it an HMO even in an area with Additional Licensing. A couple plus the cousin of one partner plus the second cousin of the other partner, for example, would be a single household and not an HMO. You cannot make judgements just based on numbers.

Coding something into the OR software to detect HMOs would be practically impossible. Not only because the relationship between prospective tenants would not be known at that point, but because the licensing conditions of each local authority is subject to change and with 355 local authorities in England and Wales, the coding would have to be updated on a weekly basis.

Hi David, I have answered your first point in my second post.

Some combination of 3/4 family members may indeed make for possible tenants of a flat with two double bedrooms. (Married couple and maiden aunt, perhaps).

But they seem far from the most likely occupants of a gardenless flat in an innercity location popular with young professionals and students.

And if the advertiser intended to follow the borough’s additional licensing requirement that 3/4 tenants can only be accepted if they are all related, they would have stated this in the advert.

You are right that it would be a job in itself to ensure the OpenRent website was compliant with all the different HMO rules around the country. But then they could hire a coder who lives and breathes HMO regulations. There must be one out there somewhere…

Alexander, the most common type of rental is still family housing, so a property advertised as suitable for 4 people is more likely to be intended for a couple with 2 children.

Most landlords with larger properties will get applications from sharers and will then take a view on whether its worth creating an HMO or hanging on for a family let. If they decide to accept they may apply for a licence at that point. This is common practice. Imposing restrictions at the point of advertising is not only hugely complex, it is the wrong point in the process.

Licensing, whilst it may be a legal requirement, offers no real protection to tenants over and above the requirements of the HMO Management Regulations 2006, which ALL HMOs are subject to, whether or not they are licensable.

I would be very surprised if families made up the bulk of renters in the specific inner London area I am talking about where I have seen several of these flats advertised.

In my own experience the majority of responses to a listing came from groups of friends, or childless couples.

The flats have two double beds, so wouldn’t be suitable for a couple with two children, or indeed a couple with a young child. Maybe a couple with a teenager who fancied living in a cramped flat for twice the price it should be!!

But more likely it is exactly as I described and they are trying to evade HMO regulations by renting to four adult sharers, most likely two couples forming two households.

Also we are not talking about larger properties, but bog standard 50-60 sqm 2-bed flats with no outside space!

Same principle applies.

Whether a HMO license is required can be complex. Some properties with completely self contained flats are still defined as HMO’s (I know because I have one - a converted listed building) It has 7completely seperate flats each paying their own council tax but the house a s whole is stil defined as an HMO because of its conversion history.
So I advertise single flats self contained flats - but I need an HMO - but DO NEED an HMO licence - how could you or open rent know that
However an apartment advertised as suitable for say 7 or 8 people may not be an HMO if it is only one joint tenancy agreement and let to a single household - Please be aware there are many sorts of household and rather than simply a family. Especially in London and other metropolitan areas . there are many ethnic groups that live in extended family units - this does not make a property an HMO. In Birmingham their definition of a household for HMO purposes can include relatives living together, including parents, grandparents, children and step-children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces or cousins. Half-relatives and foster parents/children are treated as full relatives.
Also domestic help (if living rent free) - live in carers etc also count as being part of household !
Only the local council letting officers can really determine if a property needs to be an HMO (and the rules vary locally) so Open Rent and other agents don’t have the resources or skill to determine if this is necessary and need the landlord to tell them. Its also not their job!
Reporting adverts saying suitable for 4 people will probably be nuisance reporting creating noise and hampering licensing officers in their work .
If you KNOW a particular property and who is already living there and suspect an advert is illegal then by all means report it - but don’t stir trouble for what could well perfectly legal adverts.

But tenants - If you are asked to share a kitchen or bathroom with anyone not in your household - DO ask to see evidence of the HMO license ! - and if you are not shown it then report the landlord.

But no way could Openrent police this properly and you should not rely on them or any agent to do this.

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You are very focused on the particular circumstances you believe are in play in your own local area, whilst at the same demanding that Openrent restrict the advertising rights of all landlords nationwide.

Evading licensing requirements is very widespread, but this is not the right solution.

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Is there any proper evidence that HMO’s are safer than non-HMOs? I went to a lot of time and expense to convert two properties into HMOs. Had to admit, I had misgivings about turning my properties into something resembling prison cells - closers on all the doors - connected smoke alarms in every room - strips in the bedroom doors designed to seal the doors, in the event of a fire. Personally, I’d rather be able to open the door and run! Seems to me there are at least as many negatives as positives to making HMOs ‘safe’. When the boffins dreamed-up all of these ‘safety’ measures, did they take into account the sizable negative effects? I wouldn’t live in one. In the end, my tenants removed closers, disabled smoke alarms etc. for obvious reasons. Quite frankly, I could not blame them. I de-registered and now rent to families. I feel so much better my properties are ‘normal’ again.